The tuberculosis vaccine has been highly successful and researchers have just discovered another benefit. Tuberculosis vaccines have already been used as treatments for certain types of cancer, asthma, and other health problems. Now, scientists have found that the vaccine affects the body’s immune response and metabolism in a way that helps protect patients from a wide range of disorders and diseases. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Cell Reports.
The bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine is highly effective at preventing tuberculosis and side effects are rare. There have been cases of the BCG vaccine treating bladder cancer and a number of infectious diseases, including lower respiratory infections in young children. Scientists had yet to figure out the actual mechanisms behind the vaccine’s efficiency, however, or why it can treat specific issues such as bladder cancer.
A team of researchers from the Radboud University Medical Center investigated the mechanisms behind the BCG vaccine’s effects. The team tested the BCG vaccine on monocytes, white blood cells that make up part of the immune system. The researchers discovered that the vaccine was increasing the rate of glycolysis, a method used by the body to break down glucose. Additionally, other metabolic changes occurred, including increased glutamine metabolism. The authors noted that these effects would require changes in gene expression, including the activation or inactivation of certain genes. They attributed these changes to the immunity granted by the BCG vaccine. This was true in both human and mouse cells. While the identification of early BCG pathways is an important first step, the researchers emphasize the need for further research.
The team’s findings begin to explain why the BCG vaccine is effective against so many diseases. The team is planning a larger study to better understand the mechanisms behind BCG-induced immunity. Future research might aid in the development of improved vaccines and medical treatments for a number of diseases.
Arts et al. Immunometabolic Pathways in BCG-Induced Trained Immunity. Cell Reports (2016).