UMB Scientist Works to Develop Ebola Virus Vaccine
|As the number of lives taken by the Ebola virus in West Africa grows,
and the U.S. prepares as rapidly as it can, it is clear that little is
known in the medical community about the virus. In fact, some experts
point out that the number of medical professionals who can properly
diagnose and recommend the next steps for treatment is alarmingly small.
Some scientists, however, like Alan
Schmaljohn, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at the
University of Maryland School of Medicine
(UMSOM), have spent decades studying the Ebola virus and
similar viruses identifying key characteristics that have aided in the
development of vaccines, antivirals and treatment methods.
As a leader of research and chief in the viral pathogenesis and
immunology branch with the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of
Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), Schmaljohn was able to help identify
three of the key antibodies that are used currently in combination with
each other to treat patients infected with Ebola.
Schmaljohn is now one of the scientific leaders in the School of
Medicine's partnership with Department of Defense contractor Paragon Bioservices in the manufacture of an Ebola virus vaccine for initial
safety testing in humans. Paragon is a tenant of the University of Maryland BioPark.
"Several vaccine candidates for Ebola virus are proceeding through
initial manufacture toward safety testing in human volunteers,"
Schmaljohn said. "Different vaccine candidates are based upon different
'platforms' in which selected viral proteins may be made 'in the test
tube' and purified for injection, or may be added genetically as
passengers of a different variety of virus that is weakened. Only human
trials will provide the final answers as to which vaccines are best on
the basis of many criteria, foremost being safety and efficacy," he
Schmaljohn was originally one of the leaders in determining what kinds
of immune responses are required for protection against viruses like
Ebola and he was part of the team that first identified antibodies
capable of protecting certain animals from Ebola virus. "Subsequently,"
he said, "three of these antibodies have been developed as a candidate
mixture for human therapy against Ebola virus, which seems to be true
with an American who was infected with Ebola virus during the current
outbreak." However, he cautions that many scientific questions remain
E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA,
vice president of medical affairs at the University of Maryland and the
John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean of the
School of Medicine, said, "We are grateful to have scientists at the
UMSOM like Dr. Schmaljohn who have studied viruses like Ebola for
decades. We can now build on that knowledge and understanding to focus
on bridging the science to the development of new vaccines. The
University of Maryland School of Medicine is well-positioned to play an
integral role in addressing this serious public health issue."
The School of Medicine has been an international leader in both vaccine
development and study of infectious disease for many years with
longstanding support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and
other federal agencies.
Scientists in the School's Department of Microbiology and Immunology,
under the leadership of James Kaper,
PhD have opened new approaches to the basic and applied aspects
of infectious diseases and host defenses. They are applying these
approaches to basic aspects of receptor signaling, regulation of gene
expression in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, and interactions
between these cells, genetic manipulation of cellular functions,
microbial genomics and evolution, and development of new vaccination
strategies. The techniques of functional genomics, gene delivery, stem
cells and transgenic/gene disruption animal models are being developed
to address specific questions.
The pioneering work of the School of Medicine's Center for Vaccine
Development, under Myron Levine, MD,
DTPH, founded the discipline now known as "vaccinology," which
incorporates measurement of the burden of a disease to direct vaccine
research; construction of vaccine candidates; clinical trials to
demonstrate the safety of a vaccine and its ability to stimulate immune
responses and to protect against disease; and documentation of the
public health impact that follows introduction of the vaccine into
widespread use. The earliest NIH-supported formal training programs in
the field of vaccinology were established by Levine at the School of
Medicine. It was, and still is, funded with a T32 grant from NIH.
Levine has also oriented the discipline at the University of Maryland
to address the development and introduction of vaccines to prevent
diseases afflicting impoverished populations in the developing world.
The School of Medicine is also home to the Institute of Human Virology (IHV)
under the leadership of Robert C.
Gallo, MD. The IHV is the first center in the U.S. to combine
the disciplines of basic science, epidemiology and clinical research in
a concerted effort to speed the discovery of diagnostics and
therapeutics for a wide variety of chronic and deadly viral and immune
disorders, most notably HIV. Gallo, who is widely known for his
pioneering research in the field of human retroviruses with his
discoveries of, Il-2, HTLV-1 and HTLV-2, his co-discovery of HIV as the
cause of AIDS, and his development of the HIV blood test, is the Homer
& Martha Gudelsky Distinguished Professor of Medicine and director
of the Institute of Human Virology in the School of Medicine, and
Co-Founder and scientific director of the Global Virus Network, which has an office in the UM BioPark.
|Posting Date: 08/18/2014
|Contact Name: SOM Media Relations
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