Yale neurosurgeon to pursue development of nasal polio vaccine with Gates grant

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Anthony van den Pol

Anthony van den Pol, professor of neurosurgery, will receive funding to pursue development of a nasal spray immunization against polio through Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Grand Challenges Explorations funds scientists and researchers worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges.

Polio was on track to become the second human disease eradicated from the globe, following in the tracks of the elimination of smallpox. But outbreaks of polio in several countries that had no cases of polio in the preceding decade have generated considerable concern regarding the potential for new and unexpected outbreaks of the viral disease. Poliovirus can cause permanent paralysis of different parts of the body, sometimes leading to death.

The Sabin vaccine has been very successful in preventing polio in many regions of the world, and can be taken orally. However, one problem is that the Sabin vaccine, based on weakened live polio virus, in rare instances can revert back to its virulent form and, rather than prevent polio, can cause polio in the vaccinated person or those in contact with that person. An important consideration for immunization is that the ideal vaccine should not require a skilled professional doctor or nurse to administer the vaccine, thereby allowing faster and more thorough dispersal of the vaccine to underdeveloped regions of the world.

Van den Pol proposes to generate a polio virus vaccine based on a different virus, a rhabdovirus, which will express some of, but not all, genes from the poliovirus. The vaccine could be delivered as a nasal spray, thereby not requiring a syringe injection. The rhabdovirus would generate an immune response to a poliovirus structural protein, the poliovirus capsid, which theoretically would provide immunity against the active form of the poliovirus.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched in 2008. Grand Challenge Explorations grants have already been awarded to nearly 500 researchers from over 40 countries. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have an opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.

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Media Contact

Bill Hathaway: william.hathaway@yale.edu, 203-432-1322