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Plague researchers race to beat bioterrorists
Date:10/4/2010

nation of a plague "bio-bomb" over a city of five million could cause 150,000 cases of pneumonic plague, leading to 36,000 fatalities.

Small, natural outbreaks of plague continue to this day, and it remains among the deadliest of infectious diseases. Yet there continues to be no effective and reliable vaccine against the disease.

Both the United States and the United Kingdom are funding research aimed at developing an antibody-based vaccine against plague. Why antibodies? Antibodies are special proteins produced by the immune system in response to foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses and other microbes. After the immune system utilizes an antibody to fight off a dangerous pathogen, it retains a "memory" of the invader, so the relevant antibody can be rapidly reproduced should it encounter that same pathogen in the future. Many vaccines work by simulating exposure to a pathogen, thereby training the body to quickly generate the appropriate antibodies.

Several years ago, however, an enigma arose when the U.S. Army tested the leading plague vaccine candidate in two types of primates. Both produced similar amounts of antibody, but vaccination protected one type of animal much better than the other. Unfortunately, it's not clear whether humans are more like the primates that were, or were not, protected. Most likely, humans will exhibit a range of responses, some similar to the one type of primate and some closer to the other.

In the current issue of the journal Vaccine, Dr. Smiley's research group publishes data that may help unravel this enigma and provide a way to predict who will be protected with the plague vaccine being developed by the Army. In collaboration with the U.S. and U.K. militaries, as well as the Northeast Biodefense Center, they have shown that antibodies receive help from another part of the immune system when they protect against plague. Dr. Smiley's laboratory has focused its efforts on pneumonic plag
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Contact: Brian Turner
bturner@trudeauinstitute.org
518-891-3080
Trudeau Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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