OHSU to Collaborate With PNNL on Biodefense Project Studying Salmonella, Pox Viruses

09/14/04    Portland, Ore.

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University and OHSU's Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute (VGTI) are collaborating with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) on a new five-year $10.3 million biodefense contract. The research project will be aimed at discovering the proteins associated with bacteria that cause salmonella poisoning and typhoid fever, and the virus that causes monkeypox. OHSU researchers will receive approximately $2.5 million of the funds provided by the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, a component of the National Institutes of Health.

"The goal of this research is to better defend Americans and the rest of the world against pathogens that could be used by bioterrorists and are also difficult to combat using the medications that are currently available," explained Scott Wong, Ph.D., a scientist at the VGTI whose lab is one of the few in the United States with the expertise and authorization to conduct research on the monkeypox virus. "We believe identifying the proteins generated and impacted by these pathogens is an important step in developing new drugs. In the case of monkeypox, the ability of the virus to spread naturally was demonstrated last summer in Wisconsin where 39 suspected cases and 18 confirmed cases appeared. Clearly, the country needs to be better prepared to fight pathogens such as this one in the event of a bioterror attack."

Fred Heffron, Ph.D., a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology in the OHSU School of Medicine, will provide his lab's expertise in salmonella bacteria.

"In the case of this research project, we'll be studying two strains of salmonella: salmonella typhimurium, which causes food poisoning, and salmonella typhi, which causes typhoid fever," explained Heffron. "This will be a unique opportunity to define all of the proteins expressed by salmonella, the most common cause of food poisoning in the U.S. DNA sequence defines many genes but misses many others that can only be picked up by finding the actual proteins expressed. Not only will we identify pathogen proteins induced in response to host cells, we will also find host proteins induced in response to pathogen contact. New therapeutic targets will be identified, as well as new biological markers for infection, specific markers that can be used to identify specific infections."

The Heffron and Wong labs will prepare and characterize samples of both salmonella and monkeypox for analysis in the discovery phase of the project. Subsequent studies will be devoted to validating the importance of the targets. The samples will then be sent to PNNL, where cutting-edge technology known as mass spectrometry will be used to help identify the possible proteins associated with the bacteria strains and the virus. The results of this testing will be shared with the OHSU scientists for analysis.

The VGTI was established in 1999 to take on some of the world's most deadly diseases. VGTI researchers include some of the nation's top scientists, specializing in the study of vaccines and infectious disease processes to fight AIDS/HIV, tuberculosis, West Nile virus, smallpox virus and cytomegalovirus, a major cause of birth defects. The VGTI is one of only a handful of biotechnology centers in the United States dedicated solely to vaccine development and genomics.

OHSU is Oregon's only health and research university. OHSU includes four schools, two hospitals, numerous primary and specialty care clinics, multiple research centers and institutes, and dozens of outreach programs. The OHSU School of Medicine is ranked second in the nation among American medical schools for its primary care education program as reported in U.S. News & World Report. OHSU's fundamental purpose is to improve the well-being of people in Oregon and beyond.

PNNL is a Department Of Energy Office of Science laboratory that solves complex problems in energy, national security, the environment and life sciences by advancing the understanding of physics, chemistry, biology and computation. PNNL employs 3,800, has a $600 million annual budget, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the lab's inception in 1965.