Emory, Georgia Tech, CDC team wins Wagner Prize for strategy to predict vaccine responses

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Nov. 5, 2015

Emory researchers Bali Pulendran, Helder Nakaya and Troy Querec are among the recipients of this year's Daniel H. Wagner Prize for their research project titled "Machine Learning Framework for Predicting Vaccine Immunogenicity," which seeks to create a vaccine model that uses gene expression signatures to predict the efficacy of vaccines on an individual by individual basis. Drs. Pulendran, Nakaya and Querec are part of a multi-institution team that also includes Dr. Eva Lee from Georgia Institute of Technology and researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The ability to better predict how different individuals will respond to vaccination and to understand what best protects them from infection marks an important advance in developing next-generation vaccines. This facilitates the rapid design and evaluation of new and emerging vaccines, and identifies individuals unlikely to benefit from a vaccine.

Bali Pulendran, PhD, whose laboratory is widely credited with launching the field of "systems vaccinology" is Charles Howard Candler Professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, the Emory Vaccine Center and Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Systems vaccinology combines immunology, genomics and bioinformatics to predict the effectiveness of a vaccine without exposing individuals to infection, and offers a means to probe the molecular mechanisms underlying immunity to vaccination.

The authors created a general-purpose machine-learning framework, called DAMIP, developed by Dr. Eva Lee and colleagues, for discovering gene signatures that can predict vaccine immunity and efficacy. Using DAMIP, implemented results for yellow fever demonstrated that, for the first time, a vaccine’s ability to immunize a patient could be successfully predicted with greater than 90% accuracy within a week after vaccination. The project guides the rapid development of better vaccines to fight emerging infections and improve monitoring of suboptimal responses in the elderly, infants and those with weakened immune systems. Researchers already have provided proof of concept of this approach through studies of innate and adaptive human immune responses to vaccines including yellow fever, smallpox, seasonal influenza, meningococcal disease and dengue fever.

The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS®), which is the leading professional association in analytics and operations research, awards the Wagner prize.