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UTSA researchers awarded $6.4 million for bio-weapon study

By Kris Rodriguez
Public Affairs Specialist

(Sept. 2, 2005)--University of Texas at San Antonio biology professor Karl Klose and his team of researchers have been awarded a $6.4 million, five-year grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to study tularemia, a potential bio-weapon.

Tularemia is an illness caused primarily by bites or scratches from rabbits, rodents and hares. The multi-investigator program grant is the first in UTSA's 36-year history and one of very few awarded to Hispanic-serving institutions.

The UTSA researchers are members of the newly established UTSA South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, comprised of 16 faculty members in the study of infectious diseases.

:We are proud to be recognized nationally as one of the leading institutions in the fight against bio-terrorism and we anticipate more of these collaborative grants in the future,: said UTSA President Ricardo Romo. "We will continue to recruit more noted faculty and upgrade our facilities in support of our goal to become a premier research university."

Klose and UTSA researchers Bernard Arulanandam, Judy Teale and University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio researcher Mike Berton will study and identify safe effective vaccine candidates to provide long-term immunity against tularemia.

Tularemia is considered a life-threatening bioterrorism agent by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In most cases, it causes relatively benign fever, chills and headaches that can be treated with antibiotics. However, when spread by aerosol, tularemia can cause severe respiratory illness and systemic infections and is associated with a 30-40 percent mortality rate.

"We are going to learn what makes this organism tick and what strategies it uses to evade immune responses and eventually kill its host," said Klose.

While Klose is concentrating on understanding how Franciscella tularensis causes tularemia, UTSA immunologist Bernard Arulanandam hopes to characterize and identify mechanisms that could lead to long term immunity. Teale and Berton are focusing on early responses when tularemia enters the body.

"My research focuses on defining the later-term adaptive immune responses to each vaccine candidate, specifically focusing on the characteristics of T-cell protection," said Arulanandam.

Research on the deadly pathogen is being conducted in a new biosafety level-three laboratory (BSL3) at UTSA, a secure, access-controlled facility requiring CDC certification and government security personnel clearances. Another larger BSL3 laboratory will open soon on campus allowing more researchers to collaborate on future grants.

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