Using Biomarkers to Detect Vaccine Success

Retrieved via U.S Army Corps of Engineers Europe District using a CC Attribution Generic 2.0 license.

Retrieved via U.S Army Corps of Engineers Europe District using a CC Attribution Generic 2.0 license.

Vaccinations have been a powerful form of disease prevention in modern times. They held a crucial role in eliminating many epidemics including the polio virus, smallpox and measles. Vaccinations are commonly used today to maintain herd immunity, and also for the direct prevention of common sickness such as the flu in susceptible demographics (elderly, and children). However, many people do not realize that there is active research ongoing to develop anti-cancer vaccines. Groups around the world are working on a number of different types of vaccines aimed at fighting cancer, with one of the most clinically successful being the HPV vaccine that is now commonly delivered to teens to significantly reduce the likelihood of developing cervical cancer and other HPV positive cancers. But for many cancer vaccines, there’s a lot of work to be done on how to optimize vaccine efficacy, particularly for vaccines that are being used as a treatment for cancer, and not as a preventative measure.

The exploration of Biomarkers is a novel field of research, and potentially offers many answers for health researchers. Biomarkers are biological indicators that help confirm whether or not something of interest occurs, for example, they can act as an early predictor of vaccination success, as opposed to waiting longer periods of time to evaluate whether the disease is completely eliminated. Some of the latest research looking into using biomarkers as indicators of vaccine success is done in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Dr. Kim Brewer & colleague setting up MRI Apparatus at BIOTIC Lab - Submitted by Dr. Kim Brewer

Dr. Kim Brewer & colleague setting up MRI Apparatus at BIOTIC Lab - Submitted by Dr. Kim Brewer

Tumor models in mice were used to test for vaccination success and using this to establish a correlation with a biomarker (lymph node swelling). To investigate this idea, researchers at BIOTIC and Immunovaccine Inc. (IMV) explored tumor models in mice using the presence of their biomarker as indication of successful vaccination/immunization. A set of 100 mice were included in the experimental setup to reduce results due to chance, and the research group monitored lymph node volumes after admission of the therapy. In this context, therapy was the use of vaccination with DepoVaxTM(DPX)-R9F. DPX is a lipid-based vaccine platform that was developed to enhance the potency of peptide-based vaccines, with R9F being the antigen specific to the cancer type being studied. They also studied a traditional water-in-oil emulsion against tumor activity. By doing this, BIOTIC and IMV researchers could screen for potential biomarkers corresponding to treatment success. They found that for optimized critical thresholds, these biomarkers consistently had sensitivity >90% and specificity >70% indicating strong prognostic potential. The more sensitive a test is, the fewer false negative results occur and thus fewer cases of disease will be missed. The specificity of a test is its ability to designate an individual who does not have a disease as negative. A highly specific test means that there are few false positive results.

Why are biomarkers relevant?

As vaccinations continue to be produced worldwide, it is important to find ways to screen both novel and existing vaccines for their effectiveness. By doing so vaccines can be more accurately assessed for disease prevention, anywhere from the flu to cancer therapies. In modern times, vaccines are being expanded to a large variety of new diseases, and new ones are constantly being developed. Although the introduction of drugs and vaccination has slowed down disease vectors, they have not eradicated them. Viruses and bacteria are constantly evolving in response to drug use and vaccinations. Additionally, people can potentially react differently to vaccines. It is important to evaluate how effective new vaccines are, especially for individuals.

You can Contact Dr. Brewer to get more information about this research Here



1. Reche P, Flower DR, Fridkis-Hareli M, Hoshino Y. Peptide-Based Immunotherapeutics and Vaccines 2015. J Immunol Res. 2015;2015. doi:10.1155/2015/349049

2. Kimberly Brewer. Dalhousie University.  Accessed March 5, 2018.

3. Brewer KD, DeBay DR, Dude I, et al. Using lymph node swelling as a potential biomarker for successful vaccination. Oncotarget. 2016;7(24):35655-35669. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.9580


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