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Professor Wins Global Health Research Grant

Professor Wins Global Health Research GrantTufts School of Medicine researcher Dr. Abraham "Linc" Sonenshein will develop heat-resistant vaccines with the grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Boston [07.05.05] As part of a major research initiative in solving stubborn global health problems, Tufts School of Medicine professor Dr. Abraham "Linc" Sonenshein and his colleagues have been awarded a $5 million grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for research into heat-resistant vaccines – a development which could change the way vaccines are distributed, especially to children, in the poorest parts of the world.

"Dr. Sonenshein and his team plan to create childhood vaccines that can withstand a wide range of temperatures without refrigeration by encapsulating them in harmless bacterial spores that are naturally heat-resistant," according to the Foundation.

Of the 43 projects funded by the $437 million dispersed by the foundation, Sonenshein's research was highlighted worldwide in press coverage of the grants by Reuters, Associated Press and other news outlets.

Sonenshein is the principal investigator, while Dr. Saul Tzipori, Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts, and Dr. Miguel Stadecker, Professor of Pathology at the Tufts School of Medicine, are involved as collaborating investigators.

The genetic engineering of the bacterium (B. subtilis) and antigen analysis will take place at the School of Medicine, while additional testing will be done by researchers at the Cummings School.

The grants are part of the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, launched in 2003 by the Gates Foundation and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health.

“It’s shocking how little research is directed toward the diseases of the world’s poorest countries,” said Bill Gates, co-founder of the Foundation. “By harnessing the world’s capacity for scientific innovation, I believe we can transform health in the developing world and save millions of lives.”

The Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative focuses on finding breakthroughs to fight diseases that kill millions in developing countries each year. The initiative is funded by $450 million from the Gates Foundation ($200 million of which includes funding from the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health), $27.1 million from the Wellcome Trust and $4.5 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

"The ultimate goal of the initiative is to create 'deliverable technologies' – health tools that are not only effective, but also inexpensive to produce, easy to distribute, and simple to use in developing countries," according to the Foundation.

Fourteen different challenges were selected and categorized under seven distinct goals. Sonenshein's grant is awarded for the challenge of preparing vaccines that do not require refrigeration, under the overall goal of improving childhood vaccinations.

The Tufts researcher is one of three researchers receiving grants for work on heat-resistant vaccines.

"Early studies suggest that the spore-encased vaccines can be easily produced in large quantities at low cost," the Foundation noted of Sonenshein's work. "The investigators believe that vaccines prepared in this way could be distributed in ready-to-use packets for people to mix with water and drink, avoiding the need for an injection."

This practical method could be particularly useful for preparing vaccines, particularly against childhood diseases, in areas of the world where there is little or no access to electricity. Sonenshein's research will focus on vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (the DTP combination vaccine), and rotavirus-related diarrhea.

Tufts School of Medicine professor Dr. Andrew Camillirecently named an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute – is a collaborating investigator on a project by Dr. Roy Curtiss of Arizona State University. Curtiss and his team are working to create a vaccine for newborns against bacterial pneumonia that requires only one oral dose, as opposed to the four injections currently needed.

If successful, their method – which uses an additive from weakened Salmonella bacteria to stimulate the immune response – could be applied to other existing and new vaccines.

“Scientific advances are of little value unless they are accessible to the people who need them,” explained Dr. Richard Klausner, executive director of the Global Health Program at the Gates Foundation and a member of the Grand Challenges scientific board. “Grand Challenges researchers will pursue affordable and practical health solutions that have access built in from the very start.”

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