WLU professor receives major grant for tularemia research

A biology professor at West Liberty University in West Liberty, West Virginia, was recently awarded two grants to study the potential biowarfare agent Francisella tularensis.

Professor Joseph Horzempa received $250,000 from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which operates as part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and an additional $250,000 from the West Virginia Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence to study the pathogen, according to TheIntelligencer.net.

Francisella tularensis, the bacterium that causes the illness known as tularemia, is considered one of the most infectious pathogens known to man. A single bacterium of F. tularensis can develop into a serious infection that if left untreated and has a mortality rate approaching 60 percent.

"The reason why it is an important pathogen to focus on is because it's a biological warfare pathogen like anthrax," Horzempa said, TheIntellligencer.net reports. "If this organism gets into the wrong hands, those people could do a lot of damage."

Horzempa, along with two research assistants and nine West Liberty students, will use the funding to study F. tularensis over the next two years. They hope to find out what makes the bacteria so virulent in an effort to aid the development of new vaccines and treatments.

"I was always interested in pathogenesis, or how disease-causing organisms function," Horzempa said, according to TheIntelligencer.net. "I was really enthralled by this pathogen. Not a lot was known about it and not a lot of people knew about F. tularensis, so there were a lot of opportunities for new and exciting research avenues that hadn't been previously pursued. It's been really exciting.

"Our main focus here at West Liberty is to figure out how F. tularensis gets into a red blood cell and why it's getting inside. A bigger goal is to figure out the reason. What is the biological purpose of the bacterium getting inside the red blood cell environment?"

Organizations in this story

National Institutes of Health 9000 Rockville Pike Bethesda, MD 20892

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