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Vaccines and Imaging Partnership

Final Report Summary - VIP (Vaccines and Imaging Partnership)

The ‘Vaccines & Imaging Partnership’ (VIP) is an Industry-Academia Partnerships and Pathways (IAPP) project funded by the European Union under the FP7 Marie Curie Programme (PIAPP-GA-2013-612219 - VIP). This four-year project (2014 – 2018) represents a collaboration between European universities and the pharmaceutical industry, and focuses on the development of new ways to visualise bacteria and host cell responses in the body, involving scientists from the fields of microbiology, immunology, cancer research and organic chemistry.
VIP activities were undertaken in the participant institutions at University College Cork, Ireland (Cork Cancer Research Centre and APC Microbiome Ireland); l’École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland; and GSK, Siena, Italy.
There exists an urgent need to advance methods for visualising bacterial infection in the body. By bringing together an international network of leaders in the fields of molecular imaging, infectious disease, vaccine research and industry, VIP addresses the current paucity of technology for imaging of bacteria, and host responses to them, in research animals. The work programme facilitated transfer of knowledge among project partners, promoted the development and training of staff in both academia and industry, as well as providing the field with new R&D tools.

Project objectives: Optical Imaging (OI) modalities are based on the detection and quantification of bioluminescent or fluorescent light from the subject and represent powerful yet cost-efficient and convenient systems. By labelling of bacteria and/or host cells of interest, both bacterial and host responses can be assessed in rapid, high-throughput analyses, providing spatial, temporal and quantitative read-out, without the need for radioactivity. The project aimed to develop improved imaging of bacteria in vivo using optimised reporter gene constructs, novel OI probes, and novel methods of imaging host responses to bacteria. Simultaneously, VIP aimed to establish and/or strengthen links between academia and industry in Europe, and to develop staff in industry and academia, while providing them with training in new methods, new technologies, and a range of transferable skills.

Achievements: Novel probes for analysis of bacterial infection and host immune response:
Improvement of genetic luminescent reporters: We have developed red shifted luciferase genetic constructs to produce light of a wavelength (600nm) more optimal for deep tissue imaging. We have also developed novel plasmid constructs to deploy this luciferase construct to increase the range of bacteria suitable for reporter tagging.

Bacterial enzyme-based probes: Two chemical probes have been developed for in vivo imaging of a wide range of bacteria, specifically activated by the bacterial-specific nitroreductase (NTR) family of enzymes. We have successfully validated both in vitro and in vivo the utility of these probes with numerous bacteria in a range of infection models. Two publications have resulted.

Immune cell enzyme-based probes: We have designed and synthesised a number of luminescent probes that are activated upon bacterial infection. These have been validated in vitro and in murine infection models to provide robust reporting of both infection and corresponding host immune response.

Novel Infection Models: We have developed skin infection murine models enabling robust analyses of host-pathogen interaction for a number of VIP-target bacteria. The models have been developed in parallel with our newly developed imaging probes, with the combination resulting in a powerful new R&D toolset for the study of immune and bacterial cell behaviour during infection.

Potential impact: We have developed exciting new technologies in optical imaging, enhancing the standing of European research in the area of infectious disease and optical imaging. We have added to the basic scientific knowledge of this field, publishing the VIP work in relevant journals. We have established long-term collaborative links between academia and one of the key commercial companies working in the infectious disease area (GSK). VIP provided basic scientists with an opportunity to experience industry secondments, thereby enhancing their career opportunities, with the majority of fellows now employed in European industry. VIP activity attracted scientists into the area of infectious disease, bioengineering and imaging and provided them with multiple networking and training opportunities and exposure to one of the primary companies working internationally in this arena. The fellows also received significant generic training and gained valuable exposure to outreach activities, which they will carry with them during their careers. Further partner collaborative activities are being progressed.
VIP has impacted internationally through the provision of highly-trained personnel, knowhow and new technologies that will enhance health-care R&D in the area of bacterial infection and beyond.