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Pitt Scientists Receive $3.6 Million to Test Vaccine Against Deadliest Strain of Avian Flu ​

PITTSBURGH, August 25, 2008 – Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Vaccine Research have been awarded $3.6 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to conduct animal studies of vaccines designed to protect against the most common and deadliest strain of avian flu, H5N1. Recent outbreaks of H5N1 have prompted health officials to warn of its continued threat to global health and potential to trigger an avian flu pandemic.

“Worldwide avian flu control efforts have been mostly successful, but like seasonal influenza, avian flu changes year to year, creating new subtypes and strains that could easily and quickly spread among humans,” said Ted M. Ross, Ph.D., principal investigator of the grant and assistant professor, Center for Vaccine Research, University of Pittsburgh.

Unlike other avian flu vaccines, which are partially developed from live viruses, the vaccines Dr. Ross and colleagues will test in non-human primates are based on a virus-like particle, or VLP, that is recognized by the immune system as a real virus but lacks genetic information to reproduce, making it a potentially safer alternative for a human vaccine. Given the evolving nature of H5N1, the vaccines have been engineered to encode genes for many influenza viral proteins to offer enhanced protection against possible new strains of the virus.

“VLPs may be advantageous over other vaccine strategies because they are easy to develop, produce and manufacture,” said Dr. Ross. “Using recombinant technologies, within ten weeks, we could generate a vaccine most effective towards the current circulating strain of virus, making it a cost-effective counter-measure to the threat of an avian influenza pandemic.” 

Co-investigators at the University of Pittsburgh include Simon M. Barratt-Boyes, Ph.D., Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology; Gerard J. Nau, M.D., Ph.D. and Jodi K. Craigo, Ph.D., Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics; Elodie Ghedin, Ph.D., Department of Medicine; and Clayton A. Wiley, M.D., Department of Pathology.

The Center for Vaccine Research (CVR) at the University of Pittsburgh houses both the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory and the Vaccine Research Laboratory. Researchers at the CVR, directed by Donald S. Burke, M.D., dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and UPMC Jonas Salk Professor of Global Health, develop new methods and strategies to prevent and treat infectious diseases, potentially improving and protecting global health.

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