A vaccine against the common cold may be possible, new research in mice and monkeys suggests.
Mice and monkeys both built up immunity to many strains of a virus that causes the common cold, called rhinovirus, after they were given experimental vaccines, researchers found.
In the study, published Sept. 22 in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers created two versions of a rhinovirus vaccine and tested one version in mice and one version in monkeys.
When the animals in the study were given the vaccines, they produced antibodies that were specific to all of the strains of the rhinovirus that were present in the vaccine, according to the study.
Antibodies are one of the immune system’s ways of responding to foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria. Antibodies are specific to the individual invaders, and the body remembers them. This way, if a person is exposed to a virus that the immune system has already prepped for, it can quickly produce the antibodies it needs, and prevent illness from taking hold.
Vaccines prompt the body to make certain antibodies so that if a person does encounter a specific virus or bacteria they were vaccinated against, the immune system can quickly supply those antibodies again.
Vaccines may contain either a weakened or dead version of a virus or bacterium. But the common cold isn’t caused by one single virus; rather, there are countless strains that can make a person sick.
To counteract the variety of rhinoviruses, the researchers added 25 strains to their mouse vaccine and 50 strains to their monkey vaccine. For comparison, this year’s flu vaccine contains just four strains.
The researchers found that the mice produced 25 types of antibodies, each unique to the strains in the vaccine. Similarly, in the experiment with the monkeys, the animals produced 50 types of antibodies.
The researchers isolated these antibodies from the animals’ blood, and tested them in additional lab experiments. They found that the antibodies were able to prevent the virus from infecting human cells in petri dishes. However, the researchers did not try to actually infect the animals with the common cold, to see if they would get sick.
The new study demonstrates what researchers call “proof of concept,” meaning that it shows that something can be done. Further research is needed to develop a vaccine against the common cold that is effective in humans.
The next step would be to test the vaccine in humans, Martin Moore, an associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta and the senior author of the study, said in a statement. Moore co-founded and serves as the chief scientific officer for Meissa Vaccines Inc, which could someday profit from the research.