Partner Profile Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology

The Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology (MPIIB) was founded in 1993, and is currently one of the 82 Institutes of the Max Planck Society (MPS). The MPS was established in 1948, and is Germany’s most successful nonprofit, public research organization.  These 82 institutes conduct basic research in the service of the general public in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. Institutes of the MPS focus on research fields that are particularly innovative, thus leading to pioneering scientific developments. The MPS belongs to the three top research institutions in the world, with a budget of almost 1.7 billion euros, nearly 20,000 staff members and strong international collaborations with partner institutes/research groups across all continents.

Infectious diseases continue to be the number one cause of death world-wide. Nearly one third of the cases of death caused by infectious diseases are attributable to "the big three", namely AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The MPIIB employs multi-disciplinary approaches to infection biology, comprising concepts and methodologies of molecular genetics, immunology, cell biology, epidemiology, clinical research and protein chemistry. The Institute promotes the applications of its research towards paving the way for the design of rational measures of control of infectious diseases.

Researchers at the MPIIB study the mechanisms underlying infectious diseases. The Department of Immunology focuses on tuberculosis and its interactions with the immune system, and also considers how to create better intervention measures. Main fields of interest of the Department of Immunology of the MPIIB include:

  • Role of cytokines and T cell populations in immunity against intracellular bacteria
  • Regulation and memory in immunity to intracellular bacteria
  • Innate immune response to intracellular bacteria
  • Mucosal immunity and mucosal vaccination
  • Regulatory RNA
  • Systems biology of tuberculosis
  • Systems vaccinology
  • Rational design of a vaccine against tuberculosis
  • Biomarkers of susceptibility/resistance in tuberculosis

MPIIB’s tasks and roles in the ADITEC project:
The MPIIB is involved in several work packages (WPs) within the ADITEC consortium. The work in WP2 is aimed at pre-clinical development of a vaccine strain expressing prototype antigen that will increase its ability to protect against tuberculosis. VPM1002 rBCG has passed two adult Phase I studies and one Phase IIa study in newborn with excellent safety and immunogenicity results, and has now been modified to express additional M. tuberculosis antigens derived from the H56 construct created at the ADITEC partner institute SSI. Murine models of disease will be used to measure how this strain stimulates the immune system and protects against tuberculosis.

In WP8 the human immune response to vaccination and infection will be assessed at the level of the transcriptomic and proteomic response with a focus on T-cell and B-cell memory formation, cell trafficking, and key molecular pathways of innate immunity. In this way the researchers hope to more fully understand the underlying mechanisms of protective immunity. In particular, they will investigate the global transcriptomic gene expression profiles following vaccination in infants and adults. The MPIIB will apply microarrays and deep sequencing methods for the identification and definition of molecular biomarkers in vaccine development. We hope this approach may identify novel mechanisms and correlates of immunity and safety in subjects of all ages.

MPIIB’s contribution in advancing immunization technologies in the coming years:
Transcriptional profiling and functional genomics provide an excellent basis to analyze immunisation strategies for the generation of novel human vaccines. These measurements will not only support and facilitate vaccine efficacy and safety testing, but also provide vital information about gene products and their respective metabolic pathways that serve as potential targets for novel intervention strategies, including pharmacogenomics and drug development. MPIIB's scientists hope that this transcriptomic analysis will allow them to design strategies to prevent immune suppression and cellular exhaustion, and stimulate optimal vaccine-induced memory and effector functions to interfere with chronic persisting infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.

MPIIB’s contribution so far:

  • Anovel and safe recombinant BCG vaccine strain has been created, expressing additional antigens from M. tuberculosis within the H56 construct.
  • Global transcriptomic gene expression profiles following vaccination of adults with parental and recombinant BCG (VPM1002).
  • Sample collection from a clinical vaccination trial as above in infants is currently underway. Expression profiles to be generated from this trial will subsequently be analyzed in parallel to those in the adult cohort.
  • A transcriptome analysis on samples from a mouse vaccination study, which was performed by one of the ADITEC partners.

ADITEC's reveneus for the MPIIB:

The ADITEC consortium is an excellent opportunity to form relationships within the European vaccine community, not only amongst tuberculosis researchers, but also other fields of infection biology and vaccinology. MPIIB hopes that this will evolve into fruitful collaborations and novel methodologies for improving both our understanding of what immune responses are important for protecting against tuberculosis, and how this can be manipulated through various vaccination regimes, adjuvants and routes of administration.

MPIIB's expectaions of the ADITEC project:
The scientists hope to harness this opportunity to analyse both pre-clinical and vaccine trial data to enhance their understanding of the immune correlates of protection and safety in tuberculosis through co-operation with ADITEC partners, as well as developing further improvements in safety and efficacy.

Scientists involved:
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Stefan H.E. Kaufmann, Director, Department of Immunology
Dr. Jeroen Maertzdorf, Scientist, Department of Immunology
Dr. Alexis Vogelzang, Scientist, Department of Immunology
Dr. Hans-Joachim Mollenkopf, Scientist, Core Facility Microarray