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UTSA/UTHSCSA publish results on bio-threat agent

San Antonio (June 30, 2008) Researchers at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) have identified a cell type believed to play a role in controlling the early infectious process against Francisella tularensis, a respiratory pathogen and bioterrorism agent that is the cause of tularemia. The findings will be released this week in a journal article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The organism is considered to be a life-threatening bioterrorism agent by the Centers for Disease Control. Tularemia is an illness caused primarily by bites or scratches from rabbits, rodents and hares. In most cases, the bacterium causes relatively benign fever, chills and headaches that can be treated with antibiotics. However, when spread by aerosol, the organism can cause severe respiratory illness and systemic infections and is associated with a 30-40 percent mortality rate.

"We have found that mast cells, historically associated with allergic conditions and asthma, may also be involved in priming innate and adaptive immunity against tularemia," said Bernard Arulanandam, UTSA College of Sciences immunologist and associate professor of biology. "Our studies show that mast cells can interact with other cells and control the number of bacteria that replicate. This opens up a new dimension into how we look at mast cells against this organism, Francisella tularensis."

In 2005, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded UTSA's South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases a five-year $6.4 million grant to study tularemia.

Collaborators in the published study include Jyothi Ketavarapu, Annette Rodriguez, Karl Klose, Neal Guentzel, Thomas Forsthuber, Jieh-Juen Yu, Yu Cong, Ashlesh Murthy, and Bernard Arulanandam at UTSA, and Mike Berton with The UTHSCSA.

"I think this journal article shows the quality of the researchers that we have managed to attract to UTSA and we should be proud that important research is taking place on our campus as opposed to at a medical school someplace else," said Karl Klose, executive director of the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases. "This is really a move in the right direction towards developing this university into a premier research institution."


Contact: Marianne Lewis
University of Texas at San Antonio

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