La Jolla Institute receives funding to study smallpox threat

A federally funded, five year, $18.8 million set of projects by researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology aims to make inroads on defeating several diseases identified as bioterror threats.

Four project awards were awarded to the institute by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - part of the National Institutes of Health - to fund the research. One of the study focuses on smallpox, a primary bioterrorism concern.

Bjoern peters, Ph.D., will be the principal investigator for the smallpox study, which will analyze the antibody response in the body to the vaccinia virus. The vaccinia virus - a non-dangerous relative of the smallpox virus - is the basis of the smallpox vaccine.

"B cells make antibodies, which are the parts of the immune system that keep us from getting sick," he said. "The smallpox vaccine is the most successful vaccine ever developed," Dr. Peters said, noting that it led to the worldwide eradication of the disease. "By analyzing in detail which mechanisms make the smallpox vaccine work, we will develop better vaccines for other diseases in the future."

Smallpox, despite its eradication, remains an important research subject due to concerns of bioterrorism, which Dr. peters also acknowledged.

"Understanding the key aspects of viral protection against smallpox is important from this perspective as well."

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