Wednesday, October 22, 2014

$6.6 Million Awarded to Study Lassa Fever Virus

Given our recent discussion of Lassa Fever Virus, I decided to focus this week’s blog post on a $6.6 million NIH grant to the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego to study Lassa fever virus.   Lassa fever virus is a hemorrhagic fever virus that is spread by rodents and people.  It kills 30,000 to 40,000 people in Africa each year, or 10-15% of those infected, making it more deadly than Ebola in terms of number of deaths.  Furthermore, it is the most common hemorrhagic fever virus in the region. 
The grants’ principal investigator is Michael Oldstone – a name we’ve heard in class quite a few times in reference to lymphocytic choriomeningitic (LCMV).  Interestingly enough, LCMV and Lassa fever virus are structurally similar, so our knowledge on LCMV can contribute to a deeper understanding of Lassa fever virus – a virus that is considered more dangerous than LCMV.

 The research will take place in La Jolla and Sierra Leone, and the grant will allow researchers to study immune responses in Lassa fever patients and compare responses in those who survive and those who die.  Another area of interest for this group of researchers concerns the LARGE gene, which encodes for a protein necessary for viral infection.   Such research can help us discover potential drugs and vaccines, as well as shed light on to what extent immune response actually contributes to death.

--Andrew Duong

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