December 14, 2007

Expanded protection against meningitis tested in community

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Catherine Dundon, M.D., is enrolling patients at Goodlettsville Pediatrics for a Vanderbilt study of a vaccine to prevent meningitis. (photo by Neil Brake)

Expanded protection against meningitis tested in community

Researchers at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt are working with community physicians to try to reduce the risk to children from two of the major causes of meningitis.

Meningitis, a serious and sometimes deadly inflammation of the lining of the brain, is caused by a number of viruses and bacteria, but infections from the penumococcus and Neisseria meningitidis bacteria currently pose the greatest risk for serious long term brain injury or death. In addition, the same germs that can cause meningitis can sometimes infect the blood, causing system damage and circulation problems that can lead to amputation, organ failure and death.

The Vanderbilt Pediatric Clinical Research Office has launched two vaccine studies with Middle Tennessee area pediatric practices. Kathryn Edwards, M.D., director of the research group, is the principal investigator for both studies, which look at new vaccinations for children at highest risk for meningitis.

One of the new studies will test a vaccine to protect against Neisseria meningitidis in children younger than 2, and the other will evaluate the effectiveness of an expanded pneumococcal vaccine that will nearly double the number of strains covered in the infant vaccination from seven to 13.

“We have had great success in reduction of meningitis in children, but these two new vaccines are important tools to add in our assault against meningitis,” said Edwards. “We still see children made ill by both pneumococcal and Neisseria meningitidis meningitis. In fact they are currently the No. 1 and 2 causes of meningitis in young children.”

Over the years, the National Institutes of Health and private vaccine industries have supported vaccine research at Vanderbilt to reduce major illnesses and death from Haemophilius influenzae, pneumococcal disease and meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis. Edwards said here in Nashville, local pediatric offices have been a tremendous help. The practice testing the new N. meningitidis vaccine for infants at 2, 4 and 6 months of age is Goodlettsville Pediatrics, with Catherine Dundon, M.D., leading the enrollment of patients there. Pediatric Associates of Franklin will be enrolling children to be given the expanded pneumoccocal vaccine at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.

“Here at Vanderbilt, we have been leaders in developing research projects to enroll children in the community through local pediatric practices,” Edwards said.

“This has the effect of accelerating the rate of research because enrollment is so much higher. We owe much to our private pediatric colleagues in the fight against many diseases in children.”

The studies will be completed and results will be available in about two years.