College's Largest NIH Research Grant, $10.2M, Funds Biodefense Research
ALBANY, N.Y., August 20, 2012— Albany Medical College has received a five-year, $10.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The largest single research grant ever awarded to the College, it will fund ongoing biodefense research targeting the bacterium that causes tularemia, a potentially deadly disease that could become a dangerous bioterror weapon and for which there is no vaccine.
Lead investigator, Dennis Metzger, Ph.D., professor, Theobald Smith Alumni Chair, and director of the Center for Immunology & Microbial Disease (CIMD), says important strides have been made in Albany Medical College’s laboratories toward developing a vaccine.
“We have successfully laid the scientific groundwork that will allow us to launch an interdisciplinary research effort to develop a vaccine that can effectively protect against respiratory tularemia,” said Dr. Metzger.
Dr. Metzger said respiratory tularemia is considered a Category A (the highest) bio-threat by the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases because a very small number of bacteria, 10 to 15 organisms, can be fatal, and can be disseminated fairly easily as an aerosol. During the Cold War stockpiles of the bacterium were kept by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
Tularemia bacterium exists naturally in soil and water, and can be transmitted to humans via rodents (earning the nickname “rabbit fever”). However, this non-airborne form of tularemia is not life-threatening and can be treated successfully with antibiotics.
Tularemia research has been conducted at Albany Med since 2002, supported largely by NIH grants totaling approximately $17.6 million. In addition to focusing on finding a vaccine, researchers have been engaged in projects searching for treatments.
According to Vincent Verdile, M.D., dean of Albany Medical College and executive vice president for health affairs at Albany Medical Center, “We have achieved important milestones in this area, including development of a potential broad spectrum, intra-nasal treatment for pulmonary tularemia. In addition, Albany Med has taken a leadership position in the field by organizing an annual tularemia conference attended by experts in tularemia from around the world and supported by NIH funding.”
Along with Dr. Metzger, CIMD faculty members involved in the tularemia research program are James Drake, Ph.D.; Edmund Gosselin, Ph.D.; Guangchun Bai, Ph.D.; Jonathan Harton, Ph.D.; Karsten Hazlett, Ph.D.; and Timothy Sellati, Ph.D.
Albany Medical Center, northeastern New York’s only academic health sciences center, is one of the largest private employers in the Capital Region. It incorporates the 651-bed Albany Medical Center Hospital, which offers the widest range of medical and surgical services in the region, and the Albany Medical College, which trains the next generation of doctors, scientists and other healthcare professionals, and also includes a biomedical research enterprise and the region’s largest physicians practice with 350 doctors. Albany Medical Center works with dozens of community partners to improve the region’s health and quality of life. For more information: www.amc.edu or www.facebook.com/albanymedicalcenter.
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