NIH to pump $10M into tularemia vaccine research

Scientists at Albany Medical College nabbed a 5-year, $10.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a vaccine against tularemia. The money boosts the school's tularemia research funding to $27.8 million since 2002.

Tularemia, which experts fear could be weaponized, is caused by a bacteria found in soil and water known as tularensis. The non-airborne tularemia is relatively harmless and can be treated with a round of antibiotics. But when inhaled, the bacteria can be fatal, the Times Union reports. No vaccine exists for respiratory tularemia. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union kept their own stockpiles of the deadly bacteria for making weapons during the Cold War.

Twenty-four scientists will tackle the project and collaborate with New York Medical College and the University of Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. The college will hire 6 more scientists to help out.

"When we started out, there were maybe three or four labs in the country studying this pathogen," Dennis Metzger, professor and director the college's Center for Immunology and Microbial Disease, told the Times Union. "We didn't know very much about how it caused disease or how to prevent disease from developing. In the intervening years, we learned a lot about the disease process and how we may protect (from it). We feel confident now that we can develop a vaccine against the strain of bacteria that is most deadly."

The human body has no natural defense against tularemia, Metzger said, and trying to induce a natural defense in the lungs is a challenge.

- more from the Times Union

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