Broader Approach Needed in TB Vaccines Research, says Specialist

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Professor Thomas Scriba.

The need for a broader approach to the challenge of finding an effective TB vaccine was highlighted by Deputy Director, Immunology at the South African TB Vaccine Initiative (SATVI), Professor Thomas Scriba, during his address at the second K -RITH Seminar series at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine in Durban. 

A third of the world’s population is estimated to be infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis which kills millions of people every year. 

According to Scriba, who is also an Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town, efforts to control and ultimately eliminate the disease are hampered by slow progress in developing new drugs and vaccines. TB vaccine development has traditionally concentrated on vaccine-induced induction of T cell immunity; specifically Th1 responses. 

‘T-cells are a type of white blood cell that circulate around our bodies, scanning for cellular abnormalities and infections.  T-cells are essential for human immunity.’ 

Scriba asked the question: ‘Should vaccination against TB target T cells?’, arguing that ‘results from recent clinical trials and immuno-pathogenesis studies suggest that a more comprehensive, integrated understanding of innate and adaptive immunity is necessary for rational design of effective vaccines against TB’. 

His assessment at the end of his presentation was: 

•  T cells still top the list for vaccine modulation
•  Knowledge of T cell immunity in TB is inadequate
•  T cells cannot be studied in isolation.

Scriba completed graduate training in T cell immunology in the context of HIV at Oxford University in England before joining SATVI within the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine (IDM) as a Post-Doctoral Fellow where he trained in paediatric and clinical immunology in tuberculosis and vaccinology.

In 2006, Scriba was awarded a Wellcome Trust Research Training Fellowship in Tropical Medicine for studies of T cell immunity induced by a new tuberculosis vaccine, MVA85A, in adolescents and children. 

Since then he has led the design and immunological analyses of vaccine-induced T cell responses for more than 10 clinical trials. In the last four years, Scriba has been centrally involved in correlates of risk of TB studies in infants, following BCG vaccinations, and in adolescents, following infection with M. tuberculosis. 

He has published more than 50 papers in peer-reviewed international journals, is a PI researcher holding several grants from the NIH, the Gates Foundation, EDCTP and the South African MRC, and is dedicated to student training and teaching. 

The K-RITH Seminar Series is part of an on-going effort to learn more about other exciting research underway in South Africa.  It aims to further scientific integration and collaboration among South African scientists.