The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has awarded a $7.6 million grant to a collaborative group of scientists in the University of Pittsburgh Center for Vaccine Research (CVR) for groundbreaking work that could lead to countermeasures against bioterrorism attacks.
The project will seek to accelerate development of drugs and vaccines against alphaviruses, a group which comprises about 30 different viruses that are mainly transmitted by mosquitoes. This group includes eastern, western and Venezuelan equine encephalitis viruses, which are rare but very deadly and cause periodic natural outbreaks in the Americas.
“This type of specialized research to develop therapies and protection against diseases that threaten global health is why Pitt’s CVR was created,” said Donald S. Burke, M.D., UPMC-Jonas Salk Chair in Global Health and director of Pitt’s CVR.
Amy L. Hartman, Ph.D., member of Pitt’s CVR and assistant professor of infectious disease and microbiology in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, will be principal investigator on the project. She’ll be assisted by Pitt CVR alphavirus experts and associate professors Kate D. Ryman and co-investigator William Klimstra. Also assisting in the effort is Douglas Reed, Ph.D., aerosol director for Pitt’s Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (RBL), who has experience working with infectious diseases that cause disease through inhalation.
“These viruses could be dangerous as bioweapons, so it is important that we work toward developing therapies against them,” said Dr. Hartman, who is also the research manager of the RBL. “Our goal is to better understand the biological mechanisms through which the virus harms people when it is inhaled, determine the proper timing for giving antiviral medications to people infected with the virus, and test potential therapies so that, if successful, they’ll be ready for human clinical trials.”
Dr. Hartman previously worked with the DOD on a project exploring the biological processes that underlie disease caused by Rift Valley Fever virus, which poses natural and potential biowarfare threats to humans.