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September 23, 2002


Emory Microbiologists Will Study Hemorrhagic Fever Vaccines Using NIH Bioterrorism Grant

Scientists at Emory University School of Medicine will study vaccines for viral hemorrhagic fevers, using a grant of more than $450,000 from the National Institutes of Health's Rapid Response Grants program for bioterrorism-related research. Richard Compans, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and Assistant Professor Chinglai Yang, Ph.D., will focus on developing vaccines for Lassa virus and Ebola virus, both of which cause hemorrhagic fever.

Both Lassa and Ebola viruses can be transmitted via person-to-person contact, thus posing a high risk of an epidemic outbreak. Viral hemorrhagic fevers involve severe disease symptoms and high mortality rates, with the potential for natural re-emergence and spread of the viral agents. There are also concerns about the possible intentional introduction of the etiologic agents by individual or state-sponsored acts of bioterrorism.

The Emory scientists will develop virus-like particles (VLPs) in the laboratory as safe and effective vaccines to induce protective systemic and/or mucosal immunity to these highly pathogenic viral agents. Virus-like particles are produced by genetic engineering of cells in order to produce the protein components of these viruses. The proteins assemble into structures that closely resemble the infectious virus, but lack the viral genome and are therefore unable to replicate or induce disease. Because of their close similarity in structure to the viruses themselves, the VLPs represent promising vaccine candidates.

Vaccine candidates developed in the laboratory must undergo animal testing before they are ready for human trials of safety and efficacy. No vaccines currently are approved for use in humans to prevent hemorrhagic fever, although experimental vaccines using other strategies are currently being tested in animals.

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