IRB research provides new hope against bronchiolitis

Image of nanoparticles exposing on their surface the hRSV fusion F viral protein
Image of nanoparticles exposing on their surface the hRSV fusion F viral protein

Institutional Communication Service

8 March 2019

A collaborative project between the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB, affiliated to USI) and several other European and American research institutes provides new hope for the development of an efficient vaccine against human Respiratory Syncytial Virus (hRSV), which is responsible, in particular, for acute lung infections such as bronchiolitis in children. The results of the study, coordinated by Dr. Laurent Perez at the IRB in Bellinzona, were published in the renowned scientific journal Cell.

The discovery

The study describes the development of protein nanoparticles capable of self-assembling and exposing on their surface a particular protein (a stabilized variant of the so-called viral fusion protein F). The presence of these nanoparticles improves the body's response against infection and is therefore an interesting basis for a potential vaccine: the nanoparticles generate an antibody response which neutralizes the virus with an efficacy up to ten times higher than the one generated by vaccines that are now used in clinical research.
The research therefore opens new hopes for the development of a truly effective vaccine and confirms that, in this area, nanoparticles can be a useful tool, especially when the infectious agent induces a weak immune response or when it is physically instable.

The hRSV virus

Human Respiratory syncytial virus (hRSV) is an enveloped RNA virus and a worldwide public health concern. Infection of healthy adults by RSV typically results in mild respiratory symptoms. However, the disease can be very serious in infants and the elderly. Worldwide, hRSV infection is the second cause of infant mortality after malaria and accounts for a substantial hospitalization burden in both age groups in developed countries.


The importance of this study is witnessed by Rino Rappuoli, a world famous immunologist currently serving as Chief Scientist and Head of External R&D at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Vaccines, who wrote a comment on the perspectives of the study within the same issue of Cell. The research coordinated at the IRB, was sponsored by funds granted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It concerned also the Institute for Protein Design, Washington University, USA, the Center for Molecular Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, USA.

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