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University of Adelaide researchers have begun developing a new vaccine that could help keep painful ear infections in children at bay.

In the initial stages of development in the lab, the potential vaccine would target one of the main types of bacteria that cause middle ear infections, a common illness among infants and young children.

“Ear infections are commonly caused by bacteria known as non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae and these infections can have devastating outcomes, such as hearing loss in children,” said Dr Erin Brazel from the University of Adelaide’s Research Centre for Infectious Diseases.

More than 80% of children will experience a middle ear infection by the time they are three years old. Symptoms typically include pain and pressure in the ear, but persistent cases can have long-lasting effects, including hearing loss and developmental delays.

“An effective vaccine would drastically reduce cases of ear infections among children. This would be incredibly beneficial for Indigenous communities where there are high rates of middle ear infections caused by this type of bacteria,” said Dr Brazel.  

University of Adelaide researchers are working collaboratively with South Australian biotech company GPN Vaccines on the project. The team has previously worked together to develop a new universal pneumococcal vaccine, currently in clinical trials.

“Non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae are incredibly diverse bacteria. This has complicated vaccine development as their surface proteins vary significantly from strain to strain. We aim to use a similar whole-cell vaccine approach as we have taken for our pneumococcal vaccine. This strategy introduces the full array of surface proteins to work effectively against multiple strains,” said Dr Brazel.

Researchers believe an ear infection vaccine could also be used to target lung infections in adults that are caused by the same bacteria.

The project is currently at an early stage, but researchers hope to commence human trials in the next three years.