Researchers at the Mayo Clinic are cracking the genetic code that controls the human response to disease vaccination, and they are using this new cipher to answer many of the deep-seated questions that plague vaccinology, including why patients respond so differently to identical vaccines and how to minimize the side effects of vaccination. Led by Dr. Gregory Poland, researchers in Mayo's Vaccine Research Group have published results of two genetic studies that identify mutations linked to immune response to the measles vaccine. The studies were published online (August 26 and August 27, 2011) in the journal Vaccine. "We are trying to understand, to the maximum extent possible, how a person's individual genetic makeup affects response to vaccination," says Dr. Poland. These and similar studies will likely allow physicians to prescribe appropriate doses and timing of vaccines based on routine genetic screening blood tests in the near future. Longer-reaching implications of the vaccine group's work include the development of more effective vaccines and, perhaps someday, the ability to construct personalized vaccines. "Vaccination is the single most important and far-reaching practice in medicine. By the time a child enters school in the United States, they have received upwards of 20 shots," says Dr. Poland. "In no other field of medicine do we do exactly the same thing to everyone — and we do it everywhere in the world." Doctors and epidemiologists have long been puzzled about the genetic underpinnings of the fact that up to 10 percent of recipients fail to respond to the first dose of the measles vaccine, while another 10 percent generate extremely high levels of measles antibodies. The remaining 80 percent fall somewhere in the middle.
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