GOOD NEWS: Hattiesburg native awarded patent for DNA vaccine

GOOD NEWS: Hattiesburg native awarded patent for DNA vaccine
(Source: WDAM Staff)
(Source: WDAM Staff)

HATTIESBURG, MS (Mississippi News Now) - When we have outbreaks like Ebola or Zika, there are scientists in research labs working day in and day out to find answers, treatments or vaccines to protect us. Now, a Hattiesburg High School graduate and her team have a patent on a vaccine that will do just that.

It took years of research, clinical tests and ups and downs to hold the patent.

"There is so much trial and error involved. So many times, experiments will not work," said Dr.Veronica Scott, assistant professor at WIlliam Carey University.

The scientist, Hattiesburg native, and now William Carey Assistant Professor is awarded with the patent for a DNA vaccine she and her team at the University of Pennsylvania have worked on since 2011.

"I graduated Hattiesburg High class of ’99. Go Tigers!" Scott said.  "The vaccine prevents infection from a neurotoxin that’s produced by a strain of bacteria called Clostridium botulinum." 

The vaccine would protect the U.S. military against what has been deemed a bio-weapons agent, teaching the recipient's immune system to fight off a potentially deadly infection.

"The vaccine is a DNA vaccine, which is a synthetic vaccine, meaning we don't use any cells or any viruses," Scott said. "We use genetic DNA that is inserted into a structure called a plasmid."

If someone in the military inhaled the toxin, it could cause their muscles to stop moving, including the muscles associated with their lungs that help them breathe. The vaccine would prevent this.

"From the vaccine, you'll get what's called antibodies and T-cells that are your killers. Killer T-Cells go out to kill the infection. Antibodies prevent the infection," Scott said.

The patent has gotten the ball rolling on the research.

"We're excited," Scott said. "It's a major accomplishment. When you've been working on something for so long and you finally get rewarded or recognized for it, it means a lot."

Scott is proud to have been working as the first line of defense and protecting the people from behind the scenes. She said she was discouraged by others from pursuing STEM studies, which is often a male-dominated field. She leaves this message for those bright girls who see science in their future.

"You don't know you can do it until you try," Scott said. "Once you find that you have a talent for it, don't let anyone discourage you. Go for it. Go for your dreams. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you cannot achieve what they perceive as impossible."

Scott said the vaccine was used in mice, and they were fully protected from one-hundred times the lethal dose of the neurotoxin.