Albany Medical College to fund biodefense research of tularemia

ALBANY, N.Y. — Albany Medical College has been awarded a $4.6 million grant to fund its biodefense research against Francisella tularensis, the bacteria that causes tularemia.

“Pulmonary tularemia is the form most likely to be used by bioterrorists. In fact, it was weaponized by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War,” said Dennis Metzger, Ph.D., director of the college’s Center for Immunology and Microbial Disease.

All research conducted at Albany Medical college focuses on this pulmonary form of tularemia. There is no vaccine against it.

The grant National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will support three ongoing research projects aimed at finding an effective vaccine to prevent tularemia, Metzger said.

Metzger cautioned that this work is considered basic science research and that no vaccine is in human trials.

He said pulmonary tularemia is considered a Category A (the highest) biothreat by the NIAID because of very little exposure is needed to cause disease), it is easily disseminated and it has substantial capacity to cause illness and death.

The bacterium that causes tularemia is naturally present in soil and water, and each year, small outbreaks occur in the United States. Infection via animals or contaminated soil or water usually causes a systemic disease involving fever, swollen lymph nodes and a sore throat, which is easily treated with antibiotics.

However when bacteria are breathed into the lungs, tularemia is usually lethal because very small doses can cause significant disease, which is often difficult to treat with antibiotics.

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