Research on anthrax vaccine on to counteract threat of bioterrorism

Scientists at Queen's University Belfast are aiming to help counteract the threat of bioterrorism by undertaking new research to develop a vaccine against anthrax.

Dr Rebecca Ingram from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's is working with scientists from Cardiff University, the Republic of Georgia, Turkey and the USA in a €255,000 NATO funded project to tackle the potential misuse of anthrax. The research project is expected to take three years to complete.

Dr Ingram is based in Queen's Centre for Infection and Immunity which, last year, developed the first ever drug to treat the 'Celtic Gene' in Cystic Fibrosis sufferers. Speaking about the research, she says, ''Currently the majority of the world's population is susceptible to infection with Bacillus anthracis the bacterium which causes anthrax.  The US postal attacks in 2001 highlighted the vulnerability of civilian populations and brought home the need to develop effective, rapid, robust medical countermeasures to combat the threat posed by terrorist use of this organism.

''We at Queen's will be working with lead investigator Professor Les Baillie from Cardiff University and colleagues in the US, Turkey and Georgia to develop effective vaccines to tackle the problem.

''Within the study we will be testing the antibodies and immune cells from the blood of people who have been exposed to anthrax.  Either people known to have been previously infected who live in endemic regions of Turkey and Georgia, or people who have been vaccinated with the licensed UK, US or Georgian vaccines.  This research will allow identification of key protective targets for the immune system on the bacteria helping to underpin the development of future vaccines capable of conferring broad-spectrum, rapid, robust protection following minimal dosing.''

Professor Les Baillie from Cardiff University and who leads the multi-national research collaboration says, ''It is the growing concern over the threat posed by bioterrorism that has prompted world authorities like NATO through its 'science for peace and security programme' to support efforts to develop more effective vaccines and medical countermeasures.

''Such vaccines would impact on two levels, locally they would directly improve the lives of workers at risk of contracting anthrax such as farmers in Georgia and Turkey, and globally they would contribute to the protection of citizens from the use of anthrax as an agent of bio-terrorism.''

An additional benefit of this work will be the establishment of a vaccine research centre in Georgia. Scientists from the research institute in Georgia will spend a period of time training at Queen's in order to learn the cellular immunology techniques required in this project.  This capacity building will support infectious disease research and ultimately improve the lives of all of the people in the region.