Virginia Tech researchers are testing a potential live oral vaccine for norovirus. The vaccine that the team is testing is in development by Indiana University researchers and uses the Rotarix rotavirus vaccine as a platform.

Norovirus is a contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, on average in the United States, norovirus causes 900 deaths, 109,000 hospitalizations, 465,000 emergency department visits and 19 to 21 million cases of vomiting and diarrhea illnesses.

“You hear about norovirus outbreaks on the news all the time in hospitals, nursing homes, and cruise ships and how it’s closing down restaurants, so it’s got a lot of economic implications,” said Lijuan Yuan, professor of virology and immunology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, who is leading the testing of the vaccine.

Yuan’s lab plans to evaluate the replication capacity, immunogenicity, and protective efficacy of the vaccine. They will be using gnotobiotic pig models of human rotavirus and norovirus infection and diarrhea.

“We will use a gnotobiotic pig model of human norovirus infection and diarrhea. It’s actually the only laboratory animal model available that develops norovirus gastroenteritis that are similar to what you see in humans,” said Yuan.

In their coverage of Yuan’s research, VTx news explains that a gnotobiotic animal is one that has been specially raised to contain zero germs or bacteria so researchers can better study the effects of bacteria and viruses such as rotavirus and norovirus.  

Unlike many other viruses, norovirus cannot be cultivated efficiently in cell cultures. An added challenge is testing vaccines with animal models. For example, mice get murine noroviruses, which do not cause the same disease as noroviruses in humans.  

The pig model is a unique one, as there are fewer than 10 gnotobiotic pig facilities in the country.

Yuan and her lab study gnotobiotic pig models of human intestinal virus infection and disease, including how probiotics affect immunity and the evaluation of rotavirus and norovirus vaccines and anti-norovirus biologicals.  

The pig model of norovirus will test a vaccine that has the possibility of helping millions of people.

For more on Yuan’s research, read Sarah Boudreau’s story on VTx news site.

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