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Tufts researcher elected 2010 AAAS Fellow for work in superbugs and heat-stable vaccines

BOSTON (January 14, 2011) Abraham L. (Linc) Sonenshein, PhD, professor of molecular biology and microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine and member of the genetics and molecular microbiology program faculties at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts has been awarded the distinction of AAAS Fellow.

Election as a Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers. Fellows are awarded because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. Sonenshein was elected for his distinguished contributions to the understanding of gene regulation, sporulation and pathogenesis in Gram-positive bacteria.

Sonenshein, who is also the acting chair of molecular biology and microbiology at Tufts School of Medicine, studies the regulation of gene transcription in the spore-forming bacteria Bacillus subtilis and Clostridium difficile, and the relationship of sporulation to pathogenesis.

His work with the "superbug," C. difficile which causes severe diarrhea in patients and sometimes death, showed that the bacteria only produce toxins when they are limited for nutrients. Essentially, protein that monitors the nutrient levels inside C. difficile cells prevents toxin production when the bacteria have enough to eat.

This and his other work with C. difficile are important steps toward the development of a drug that may prevent hospital patients from falling ill.

In ongoing work, he is collaborating with scientists at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts and Boston University to use the harmless B. subtilis bacterium as the basis for low-cost, needle-free and heat-stable vaccines. In a study published in the November 2010 issue of Clinical and Vaccine Immunology, one such vaccine using nasal drops instead of needles effectively induced an immune response in mice and protected them from rotavirus infection. Rotavirus is a common cause of severe diarrheal disease that is responsible for approximately 500,000 deaths among children in the developing world every year.

The new vaccine delivery system has also been tested successfully against tetanus. A study published in Vaccine in September 2010 established that the tetanus vaccine is effective even after being stored for more than a year at 113F. The new vaccine delivery system is currently being tested with diphtheria and pertussis.


Contact: Siobhan E. Gallagher
Tufts University, Health Sciences

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