Fighting Ear Infections in Kids

January 8, 2013 Updated Jan 8, 2013 at 9:27 AM EDT

By WKBW News
By Business First by Tracey Drury

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January 8, 2013 Updated Jan 8, 2013 at 9:27 AM EDT

A new $1.5 million federal grant will help researchers at the University at Buffalo advance the development of a vaccine to fight children's ear infections.

The grant comes from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders within the National Institutes of Health and supports the work of Dr. Timothy Murphy, a SUNY distinguished professor of medicine and microbiology in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Murphy's lab, housed within UB's new Clinical and Translational Research Center downtown, studies Moraxella catarrhalis, a bacteria he says is increasingly prevalent and causes at least 10 percent of ear infections. Those infections, he said, do more than cause pain and sleepless nights: they temporarily disrupt hearing when children are at a critical age for speech and language development.

The goal of the current research is to identify new virulence mechanisms for the pathogen, identify the structure of a candidate antigen for a new vaccine and develop a new vaccine.

"When a child has the infection, the middle ear fills with fluid, a condition that can last for a month or longer. During that time, the child's hearing is muffled, which disrupts the normal development of language and speech skills, potentially resulting in long term delays and learning problems in school," he said. "The best option would be to prevent these infections in the first place," he said.

Murphy also serves as the director of UB's Clinical and Translational Research Center and is senior associate dean for clinical and translational research in the UB medical school.

Recurrent ear infections also require repeated courses of antibiotics, which then contribute to the global problem of antibiotic resistance. Some children must undergo insertion of drainage tubes under general anesthesia.

Murphy and his team are now testing several promising vaccine antigens that they have identified. He and his team are also exploring whether the same vaccine could be used to prevent chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbation in adults, which is caused by the same bacteria.

A new vaccine could be ready for human testing in three to five years.

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