University gets $4.8M grant for new rabies treatment

The NIH has granted Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University a $4.8 million grant to test a new rabies vaccine that could potentially clear the virus after it has spread to a person's central nervous system. Rabies that's spread to brain is currently untreatable and almost certainly results in death. 

Worldwide, 50,000 people die each year from rabies infections. Current treatment relies on administering a series of vaccines shortly after a person is bitten and before symptoms develop. But for people who don't know they've contracted the disease--or live in an area where treatment isn't available--prospects are grim.

D. Craig Hooper of Thomas Jefferson led research into cases in which several patients who'd contracted the virus survived. His team confirmed in animal models that in some instances, the immune system is capable of clearing the rabies infection from the nervous system. The group will explore whether using a weaker form of the rabies virus can train the immune system to recognize and fight the disease.

"This is the first translational work to be done on live-attenuated rabies vaccines with the potential to clear wild-type rabies virus from the central nervous system," Hooper said in a release. "This live attenuated vaccine can clear a pre-existing infection with a highly lethal virus from the brains of mice, an outcome that we have never seen before." He added, "[t]his grant lets us further study the potential that this vaccine has for humans, will give us information on biomarkers of rabies virus infection and the protective immune response, and will help us predict the maximum post-infection delay where treatment may be possible." He added that the group's research could serve as a successful foundation for developing other vaccines to clear encephalitis viruses from the CNS tissues.

- here's the release