Rights: The University of Waikato Published 18 October 2010 Download

Dr Joanna Kirman leads a team at the Malaghan Institute investigating a new vaccine for tuberculosis (TB). The current vaccine doesn’t work so well so the team’s aim is to develop a vaccine that will prevent TB. They do this by studying the immune system to work out how it might respond more effectively.


The current vaccine for TB is called BCG, and that was developed almost 100 years ago now. It is one of the most commonly used vaccines in the world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work very well at preventing the adult form of tuberculosis. Our aim is to try and develop a new vaccine that will be better at preventing disease in adults. Until you get rid of the adult disease, you are always going to have a reservoir of disease that can infect other people and children as well.

A lot of vaccines that we have in existence today have been developed based on antibody responses – B cells make antibodies. Tuberculosis is a bit different. Because the bacterium actually infects cells themselves, it can go inside a cell and hide, and it’s effectively shielded from the antibody response. It needs a T cell response to actually get rid of it, and we are trying to understand how we can make a vaccine that will target that T cell response and how we can find the types of T cells that are able to protect against TB and make a vaccine that will make more of those cells and allow them to persist long term so that a person can get one vaccine and be protected for several years.

Analytical Imaging Facility at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine
CDC Centres for Disease Control & Prevention