Research teams from Dublin and Leicester collaborated with others from Trinity College Dublin, the U.S and Switzerland and announced a dramatic breakthrough in the fight against pneumonia, meningitis and septicaemia.

They report for the first time that NLRP3 inflammasome is driven primarily by bacterial toxin pneumolysin and is essential for human immune response. NLRP3 inflammasome is a group of recently discovered novel proteins that protect against pathogenic infections. Work was carried out by Dr Ed Lavelle and Dr Aras Kadioglu with Dr Edel McNeela of TCD and published in journal PLoS Pathogens.

Both the teams showed that pneumolysin operates by activating the NLRP3 inflammasome, which in the active state confers protection from the pathogen. This mechanism can be harnessed to develop and target new vaccines specific to improving human immune response. Researchers are very excited about this discovery as it is bound to have a significant impact on vaccine development against pneumococcal disease.

"This is a very exciting finding and supports the development of inflammasome activating vaccines to prevent pneumococcal diseases including pneumonia and septicaemia. If a protein based vaccine could be produced that can protect against all strains of the pneumococcus, this would be of tremendous value and our discovery that NLRP3 is needed for protection will point us in the right direction in terms of how to develop such vaccines, “ Dr Lavelle, Lecturer, Immunology, Trinity College Dublin.

"This is a major breakthrough in our understanding of the immune response to Streptococcus pneumonia; a human pathogen of global significance, responsible for over one million infant deaths annually and the major cause of illness and death in the elderly from infections of the respiratory tract. In order to develop improved pneumococcal vaccines for both the very young and the elderly, it is essential to understand how this bacterium interacts with the host immune system.

The discoveries described in our paper represent a huge stride towards this objective. That is why these are exciting new findings, discovered in the course of a unique collaboration between scientists at the University of Leicester and Trinity College Dublin, “ Dr. Aras Kadioglu, Reader in Respiratory Infection in the Department of Infection, Immunity & Inflammation at the University of Leicester.

This research extended for a period of four years and elaborates on the body's immune response to Streptococcus pneumoniae infections.