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Fungal Vaccines: Could Stem Cell Training Enhance Immune Response?

EMERGING research has demonstrated the potential of using a fungal vaccine to improve immune response to infections. The administration of the vaccine would train stem cells and haematopoietic progenitor cells to improve the immune system’s ability to fight infection. This research comes from the Immunology of Fungal Infections Research Group at the University of Valencia, Spain. 

Murine vaccination models have been trialled using a non-virulent strain of the Candida albicans fungus. The administration of this fungal vaccine resulted in the production of pathogen-specific B and T lymphocytes, capable of protecting against future infection. Alberto Yáñez, lead researcher, explained: “What we see is that vaccination trains stem cells and haematopoietic progenitors in the bone marrow and then travels to the spleen, where they are able to produce large amounts of improved mature cells to fight infection.” 

The latest RNA sequencing technology was used on a cellular level to determine the mechanism of the vaccine and how it promotes immune cell training to increase their protective abilities. This technique allowed researchers to examine the changes in gene expression that stem cells are subjected to following exposure to a strain of infectious fungus. The growth factor granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) was identified as the key driver of immune cell programming. GM-CSF is a glycoprotein produced upon vaccination to aid production of new blood cells in the bone marrow, thereby increasing the protective ability of immunogenic stem cells and haematopoietic progenitors. 

This research has shed light on the importance of these specific immune cells and their protective role against repeated infection. Yáñez gave an insight into future possibilities following this study: “[These] results could help design more effective immunotherapies in the future, including the development of enhanced vaccines, to enhance the immune response to various infections, including COVID-19.”