September 13, 1996

VUMC researchers study vaccine to stifle ear infections

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Dr. Kathryn Edwards, here examining two-month -old Magan Johnson, is leading a VUMC study of a vaccine aimed at easing childhood ear infections.

VUMC researchers study vaccine to stifle ear infections

Almost all parents know the bane of ear infections in children; nearly all children get at least one, and, by the age of two, one-third of children have had three or more episodes.

"Two billion dollars a year are spent diagnosing and treating ear infections in children," said Dr. Kathryn M. Edwards, professor of Pediatrics.

VUMC Pediatric Infectious Disease researchers, led by Edwards, have begun a study of a vaccine targeted at the most common cause of ear infections in children, the bacteria strepococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus.

"We have been studying the pneumococcus for the past several years and we have seen more widespread resistance develop to common antibiotics," Edwards said.

Among the children seen in VUMC's Vaccine Evaluation Practice, about one-third have the bacteria in their nose and one third of those have a strain that is resistant to common antibiotics.

"Because of this, we've become more interested in whether a vaccine could eliminate carriage of the organisms," she said.

A small preliminary study of the vaccine showed promising results. "It was safe, had no side effects, and produced good antibody levels," Edwards said.

Beginning this month, about 300 children seen by the Old Harding Road pediatric practice in Bellevue will be enrolled in the new study.

The fact that VUMC is reaching into the community for help with the study was noted by Edwards.

"This is a model of how academia and the 'real world' can work together to answer an extremely important question," she said.

Half the children, who will be enrolled shortly after birth, will be given the pneumococcal vaccine, and a control group will be given a meningococcal vaccine, Edwards said. The vaccines will be given two months, four months, and six months after birth.

The 300 children will be followed by the researchers for a year to determine if those receiving the pneumococcal vaccine have less colonization of the bacteria and if they develop a lower incidence of ear infection.

If a lower incidence is noted at the end of the study, Edwards said it would be exciting news. The impact on the lives and pocketbooks of parents and the health of children would be enormous.