Goal is to determine if antibodies from patients who have recovered can be used to prevent or treat the disease.

NIAID awarded a five-year contract totaling $15,254,919 to Tulane University for its ongoing efforts to develop a vaccine or therapy for Lassa fever. The virus is prevalent in West Africa and is classified as a potential bioterrorism threat.

The contract will include collaborations between Tulane, Scripps Research Institute, The Broad Institute, Harvard University, the University of California at San Diego, Boston University, Autoimmune Technologies, Corgenix Medical, and various partners in West Africa.

James Robinson, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Tulane University School of Medicine and principal investigator of the program, says that the researchers plan to evaluate antibodies from patients who were infected by the Lassa virus and recovered. The aim is to assess whether those antibodies could play a role in the development of a vaccine or treatment.

“This study will result in a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of antibody responses and how they neutralize the Lassa virus,” according to Dr. Robinson. “We have assembled a very strong and diverse group of institutions to collaborate on this project.”

Robert Garry, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology at Tulane, who will serve as program manager of the contract, says, “We have been very pleased with the results of our research efforts over the past five years. The diagnostic products we have developed have been shown to be remarkably effective in clinical settings in Africa and will not only have a meaningful impact on healthcare in that part of the world but will also fill a critical gap in bioterrorism defense. 

“Now under the new NIH award, we will move to the next level allowing us to better treat the disease or ultimately prevent it altogether,” Dr. Garry remarks. 

The group intends to expand this program to address other important infectious agents such as Ebola, Marburg, and other hemorrhagic fever viruses that are of concern to the public health and bioterrorism-preparedness communities, says another team member, Daniel Bausch, M.D., associate professor of tropical medicine at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.  

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