Looking at Lassa

Tulane University has received $12 million from the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to support research into Lassa Fever, a hemorrhagic fever found in West Africa that infects more than 300,000 people annually. The award will support two five-year preclinical projects. The first project will evaluate antibody drug combinations to treat existing Lassa fever patients, while the second will focus on developing a potential vaccine against a recently identified surface glycoprotein found on the virus.

Tulane virologist Robert Garry, the recipient of the grants, said in a press release, “These two projects complement each other. In West Africa, we need a drug to treat acutely infected patients as well as a preventative measure to stop it.”

Canadian containment

The government of Canada will be expanding its biosecurity research capabilities by converting existing laboratory space at the Canadian Science Centre for Health and Animal Health to Containment Level 4 (CL4) status. CL4 laboratories are specialized facilities needed to conduct research on highly infectious diseases, such as Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, and emerging avian influenzas.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam commented, “Expanding our CL4 laboratory space vastly increases our capacity to investigate, test, and research the most deadly of infectious diseases.”

The government has committed $5 million CAD to the project.

A new agent for MRI

Inlighta, an Atlanta startup founded by Jenny Yang at Georgia State University, has received a $2 million small business grant from the NIH National Cancer Institute to further develop a novel protein-based MRI contrast agent called ProCA32. With collaborators at Georgia State and Emory University, the company will work to optimize and validate ProCA32 for early detection of liver cancer and liver metastases. The funding will also support animal toxicology testing that is needed before the contrast agent can move into human clinical trials.

Prior preclinical research from Yang and her collaborators suggests ProCA32 can detect liver tumors as small as 0.24 mm in rodents, an improvement from the 1 cm resolution detectable by existing contrast agents.

Barrett's esophagus collaboration extension

A translational collaboration between the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and the Mayo Clinic will continue its Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer research through 2022 with a $6.5 million award from the NIH National Cancer Institute. The research network, established in 2011, has linked microbiome changes at the gastroesophageal junction to the development of esophageal tumors. The work across the three project centers will continue studying the effects of the microbiome and other potential microenvironmental factors in the L2-IL-1beta mouse model of Barrett's esophagus.

Research team member John Lynch from the University of Pennsylvania commented in the press release, “Overall, these three projects, integrated from the laboratory environment to the patient's bedside, will advance the science of the microbiome and microbiome in Barrett's esophagus. We expect our observations here will lead to new insights into how the disease develops and progresses to cancer, and likely result in novel translational applications, including new biomarkers and therapies.”

Collaborating on bones

Taconic Biosciences has announced a collaborative agreement with the skeletal-focused preclinical CRO Pharmatest Services to improve bone metastasis research with a novel Human Immune System model. Pharmatest developed the model from Taconic's existing huNOG animals, a humanized mouse line that contains human cancer and immune cells in the bone. Pharmatest COO Jenni Bernoulli remarked, “By using humanized mice provided by Taconic, we have been able to establish more predictive animal models to support immuno-oncology therapy development.”

Careers Update

Jurgen Schneider, a magnetic resonance physicist, has moved from the University of Oxford to the University of Leeds to lead a new center dedicated to developing improved methods of studying the mouse heart. The £6 million center, part of the Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine, will use non-invasive scanning techniques like MRI and MRS that have been scaled down to be used with small animals. The researchers at the center will be working to improve both the hardware and the software needed for the scans, in order to reduce the amount of time involved and to improve the molecular detail the can be captured from images of an animal's heart. Schneider commented, “The aim of this research is to develop tools that will provide an insight into heart disease that can be fed back into the clinical environment.”