A team with members from UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh is hard at work on vaccines for a virus you may not have heard of but you have had. Human metapneumovirus (MPV) was only discovered in 2001 but has been around for at least 200 years. MPV is a common cause of respiratory infections like colds, bronchiolitis and pneumonia. MPV is the second most common cause of lung infections in children worldwide (after its cousin, respiratory syncytial virus or RSV). All children are infected by age 5. People can be re-infected later in life. MPV is also an important cause of lung infections in older adults. MPV is more likely to cause severe infections in people with underlying health problems, such as prematurity, lung diseases (including asthma and emphysema) and weak immune systems, or in people older than 65. MPV affects people worldwide of all races and ethnicities equally. Unfortunately, there are not yet any licensed vaccines against MPV.
John Williams, MD, Henry L. Hillman Professor of Pediatric Immunology, University of Pittsburgh, has been studying MPV since its discovery. His group has developed and tested several possible vaccines. These include vaccines containing virus proteins—similar to influenza vaccines, or “virus-like particles” that look like a virus but cannot infect or cause disease, which is similar to human papillomavirus vaccines. When these vaccines were tested in mice, the vaccines stimulated a strong immune response and protected against disease. However, many steps remain before testing vaccines in humans. Human immunity to MPV is not well understood, so Dr. Williams and his team are using mice that have human immune genes to “map” the human immune response to MPV. This research will identify the targets for protection that an MPV vaccine needs to hit to be effective in humans. The flu vaccine is an important way for people to protect themselves against severe disease; Dr. Williams hopes that one day an MPV vaccine will also be available to protect children and adults.
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