The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded nearly $5.4 million to a collaborative team of scientists at Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology and Texas Biomedical Research Institute to develop vaccines for prevention of deadly hemorrhagic fevers.
The project focuses on the development of an effective vaccine for Ebola and Marburg virus infections, two members of a family named "filoviruses" because they produce long filamentous particles.
The lead investigators include Richard Compans and Chinglai Yang at Emory University, Mark Prausnitz at Georgia Tech, and Jean Patterson and Ricardo Carrion at Texas Biomedical Research Institute.
According to Compans, "These viruses cause severe hemorrhagic fevers with up to 90 percent mortality, and can be passed via person-to-person contact, thus posing a high risk in case of an epidemic outbreak as well as a possible bioterrorism threat."
In ongoing research, the Emory group has developed virus-like particle (VLP) vaccines to prevent virus infection, and has shown that the Ebola VLPs stimulate immune cell activity and induce strong antibody responses, indicating that such VLPs could be effective vaccines to induce protective immunity against infection. They also have found that immunization with a mixture of DNA and VLP vaccines (DNA/VLP) induced higher levels of protective immune responses in comparison to immunization with either vaccine alone.
"We consider this to be one of the most promising and safest approaches to protecting against hemorrhagic fever viruses," said Patterson, chair of the Department of Virology and Immunology at Texas Biomedical Research Institute.
In addition, the researchers are testing these vaccines with a new skin delivery technology developed at Georgia Tech that could further increase such responses, with the aim of having a vaccine that can confer rapid and long-lasting protection against Ebola and Marburg virus infection. The results will identify the most effective candidate vaccine for human trials. The successful development of this vaccine strategy may also lead to vaccines against other viral hemorrhagic fevers, which still lack effective vaccines.
"Administering these vaccines with a microneedle skin patch may increase the effectiveness of the vaccine, as well as potentially make vaccination simple and painless," said Prausnitz, professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech.
The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University produced this news release.