Te Herenga Waka–Victoria University of Wellington Associate Professor Bridget Stocker has received a significant funding boost for vaccine research that has potential to help with diseases ranging from bowel cancer to COVID-19.

Associate Professor Stocker has received $596,504 over two years from the Health Research Council of New Zealand to continue her research into the development of vaccine adjuvants under a new funding scheme for mid-career researchers.

“Adjuvants are chemicals that enhance and moderate the intensity and type of immune response to a vaccine, so effective adjuvants are a vital part of any vaccine,” Associate Professor Stocker says. “This research funding will support the creation of better adjuvants for numerous diseases including those that cause tuberculosis, pneumonia, strep throat, and bowel cancer.”

Associate Professor Stocker has already completed extensive vaccine adjuvant work, including the development of promising adjuvants for sheep pneumonia vaccines. She says the grant allows her research team to take their work “to the next level”.

“This grant allows us to keep moving our programme forward, from fundamental research, to work on animal vaccines, and now targeted applications of our adjuvants in human health.”

Associate Professor Stocker says the grant will fund collaborations with experts on a range of diseases, including bowel cancer, to gain preliminary information on the potential of the adjuvants in vaccines for these diseases, an important first step in proving adjuvant efficacy.

The grant will also allow Associate Professor Stocker and her team to explore the effect of their adjuvant in vaccines for new pathogens as they arise—including SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen that causes COVID-19.

“There is the potential for us to assess the effectiveness of our adjuvants in COVID-19 vaccines,” Associate Professor Stocker says. “This is an avenue that we are actively exploring with our overseas collaborators.

“As we now know, the global community in which we live facilitates the rapid spread of new pathogens, so there will always be a continual need to develop and optimise vaccines,” Associate Professor Stocker says. “Each vaccine requires a tailored and optimised adjuvant, so there is a lot of work to be done in this space.

“The development of these vaccines also helps address inequalities,” Associate Professor Stocker says. “There are many diseases that disproportionately affect certain groups, including Group A Streptococcus that causes strep throat and other infections, and which infects Māori at a far higher rate than other groups. The development of a more effective vaccine for this disease will help level the health playing field a bit more.”

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