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November 18,
2002

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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Largest smallpox vaccine study under way

Rochester doctors and nurses have been chosen to lead the largest smallpox vaccine study to date. Funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the nationwide project will include close to 900 patients at seven sites around the country, including Rochester.

In addition, approximately 200 people in the Rochester area who were vaccinated against the disease as children will receive booster shots as part of the study.

John Treanor, associate professor of medicine and director of the Medical Center's Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit, will lead the national study, coordinating doctors at all seven sites and guiding the effort to evaluate the results.

Last year, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, 170 people were vaccinated against smallpox at the University, part of a larger nationwide study which determined that a diluted form of the vaccine could protect people as well as a full dose. The study bolstered hopes that the nation's vaccine supply could be extended and could provide ample protection in the case of a bioterrorism attack.

"It's important to know which dose works best for this group of people," says Treanor. "This is very similar to the study last year, except now we're looking at people who did receive the vaccine as children. It's crucial to protect this group as well."

While it's known that some diseases, like tetanus, require repeated immunization, the need to administer repeated doses is less clear with smallpox. Researchers hope this study will answer many of the questions regarding smallpox boosters.

In an additional study, doctors and scientists are teaming up to analyze exactly how the smallpox vaccine works in the body, a line of research that wasn't possible when the vaccine was last widely used in the early 1970s. Scientists will look at initial immune responses as well as "immune memory," or the way the body remembers an infectious invader and then stays geared up to recognize and fight that infection for many years.

Supporting Treanor in this study are David Topham, assistant professor of immunology, Tim Mosmann, professor of immunology, and Mark Sullivan, research associate professor of pediatric immunology.

"There are very, very few studies that describe the cellular immune response to smallpox," says Topham. "The modern immunological techniques common in laboratories today simply didn't exist 30 or 40 years ago, and so we really know very little about the body's immune response to the virus. Now we know, for instance, that killer T cells are part of the body's response to a viral infection, but 30 years ago we didn't even know they existed."

Anyone interested in volunteering for the vaccine studies should call x3-3990 for more details.



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