Scientists at Baylor Institute for Immunology Research (BIIR) in Dallas, part of Baylor Research Institute (BRI) and the Baylor Health Care System, announced today that they received a renewal of a multi-million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to design new vaccines to prevent influenza—including swine flu (H1N1). The grant will also help BRI develop advanced technologies that could be used for early detection of many other diseases, such as cancer, autoimmune diseases and infectious diseases.
This research has been supported for the past six years by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a department of the NIH. The original grant, received in 2003, totaled $16.5 million and has just been renewed by the NIAID for another five years at close to $14 million.
"We have made great progress over the past six years because of this grant. We now know that certain types of immune system cells are better for inducing immunity to the flu. We also know how to target them with molecules that we have developed at BRI," says Jacques Banchereau, Ph.D., director, Baylor Institute for Immunology Research. "With the new funding from the NIAID, we plan to further characterize our targeting molecules and continue to measure the immune response to the flu. This will prepare us for a clinical trial to test our new vaccine."
Additionally, BRI scientists have applied for a supplement to the grant that would allow them to specifically make a vaccine against swine flu. It would also fund studies researching how swine flu affects the immune systems of patients.
"There is serious concern throughout the world health communities about the dangers of emerging infectious diseases, like this new flu strain," says Dr. Banchereau. "Our flu research has focused on finding out how the immune system responds to the flu and on developing a new type of vaccine that will activate a strong protection against the flu."
To develop this vaccine, the researchers will target dendritic cells, key immune system cells that instruct the rest of the immune system to develop immunity against invading microbes.
Another project at BRI has expanded into a new Center for Personalized Medicine led by Damien Chaussabel, Ph.D., a scientist at BIIR. This new center is using microarray technology to measure the expression of over 45,000 genes from a single tube of a patient’s blood. What they have found is that the immune system responds in unique ways to different kinds of diseases. This allows the researchers to identify a "biosignature," which can be used to diagnose diseases. This technology might one day be used in doctors' offices and hospitals to diagnose swine flu and other diseases.
"The work being carried out at BRI has the potential to transform the way that we treat patients and diagnose diseases, including those infected with swine flu," says Michael Ramsay, M.D., president, Baylor Research Institute.
Dallas-based Baylor Research Institute, an affiliate of Baylor Health Care System, promotes research that brings innovative treatments from the laboratory to the patient bedside. The Institute focuses on basic and translational science, clinical trials, health care effectiveness and quality of care research. Currently, investigators at Baylor are conducting 800 active research protocols spanning more than 20 medical specialties. Opened in 1996, Baylor Institute for Immunology Research, a component of BRI, focuses on developing new therapies to treat conditions that involve the immune system such as cancer, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases and organ transplantation.
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