Primate research center granted stimulus funds for Marburg and Ebola vaccine study

Federal stimulus money has been granted to the New England Primate Research Center for investigations and a contract tied to developing a vaccine for the Marburg and Ebola viruses.

The project, spearheaded by Boston University's medical school, will receive $5.1 million. Live viruses will not be used by the project, which is awaiting approval for a high-security lab in Boston's South End where it can perform such sensitive research.

A Biosafety Level-4 lab, the most secure kind of lab, is required to handle live Marburg and Ebola viruses. Marburg and Ebola are in the same taxonomic family and are identical structurally. The viruses, however, elicit different antibodies.

Boston University was granted the money for its proposal describing efforts to develop a single vaccine for the oft fatal viruses that cause hemorrhagic fever, of which Ebola and Marburg are included.

Ebola and Marburg carry fatality rates that range from 15 to 90 percent. There are currently no licensed treatments or vaccines available for either virus.

The New England Primate Research Center is one of eight such centers nationwide and housed 1,800 primates as of 2003. The center cited accomplishments in the fights against AIDS, cancer, leukemia and Parkinson's disease in its application for funds.