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Secret of smallpox's success may lead to bioterror cure

In disease, as in war, offensive strategies can become weaknesses, if the defenders see the enemy coming and compensate for its weapons.

By manipulating what is perhaps the most devastating trick in cellular weaponry of pox viruses like smallpox, Arizona State University virologist and Biodesign Institute researcher Bertram Jacobs believes that he can turn the biochemical machinery of the pox viruses against themselves ?and protect the public against catastrophic bioterror attacks.

And if he is correct, Jacobs may not only be able to create a vaccine that can cure smallpox infections in their early stages, but he may also have a powerful tool for fighting a host of other viral pathogens, including HIV.

Jacobs has received a $1 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to develop an effective post-exposure vaccine for smallpox. The research is one of ten projects funded under Project Bioshield, which gives federal agencies new tools to accelerate research on medical countermeasures to safeguard Americans against chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack.

The idea for the vaccine comes from Jacobs and his team's discovery of a gene that gives pox viruses uncanny ability to camouflage themselves from mammalian immune systems. The ability to stay hidden allows the smallpox virus, in particular, time to grow and multiply to the point of causing devastating disease before the immune system detects it and attempts to mount a counter-attack.

Jacobs notes that there have been clues to this property of the virus present in historical results from using vaccinia, or cowpox, to immunize against smallpox. In most people, exposure to vaccinia generally only causes a mild infection in humans before the immune system responds and eliminates the virus, also leaving immunity to smallpox and other pox viruses in its wake.

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Source:Arizona State University


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