Microbiologists Will Study Hemorrhagic Fever Vaccines Using NIH Bioterrorism
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 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.