Undergraduate Alex Prybutok’s Whooping Cough Vaccine Poster Places Second At AIChE

Undergraduate student Alex Prybutok with Hook 'Em horns standing next to her winning posterUndergraduate Alex Prybutok won second place in the Division of Food, Pharmaceuticals, and Biotechnology Poster Competition at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting in Atlanta.

Alex’s winning poster featured research she is conducting in Dr. Jennifer Maynard’s labto improve therapeutics to fight pertussis, more commonly known as Whooping Cough. Each year pertussis kills nearly 200,000 children around the world and the dangerous disease is on the rise. Last year, cases in Texas were up 79 percent from the year before.

During infection, the Bordetella pertussis bacteria first infect the lungs, and then grow while secreting a large number of toxins. Antibiotics do not affect the toxins which are responsible for the severe symptoms of the disease, such as violent coughing. The toxins cause huge numbers of white blood cells to migrate into the blood, clogging the lungs and other organs. Toxins also paralyze the immune system so it cannot kill the bacteria or remove toxins from the body.

“We’re studying the neutralizing ability of two high affinity antibodies when used in combination,” said Prybutok. “Due to the different epitopes and protective mechanisms of each antibody on the pertussis toxin, we hypothesized that the two antibodies might exhibit synergy, meaning they neutralize pertussis toxin more effectively in combination than individually. These antibodies are combined at varying ratios in vitro to neutralize the effect of pertussis toxin on Chinese hamster ovary cells to determine the most effective neutralizing ratio.”

It’s hoped that these engineered antibodies can be injected into a sick infant to provide “instant immunity” to pertussis. In animal models, the antibodies halted progression of the disease and allowed for a much faster recovery. The team believes these antibodies can prevent disease during outbreaks if provided before an infant becomes ill.

Prybutok’s poster was entitled, “Evaluating in vitro neutralizing activity of anti-pertussis antibodies”.

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