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Children's Hospital Boston receives more than $10 million to help make smallpox vaccine safer

Children's Hospital Boston (CHB) has secured contracts totaling nearly $10.5 million through the National Institutes of Health to study a potentially life-threatening complication of smallpox immunization known as eczema vaccinatum (EV). The goal is to reduce the risk of EV and develop a safer smallpox vaccine.

EV is a severe skin infection caused by vaccinia, the live virus used in the smallpox vaccine. The risk of EV has been a major barrier to reintroducing widespread smallpox immunization. Routine vaccination ended in the U.S. in 1972, so many Americans lack immunity to smallpox, which is now seen as a potential weapon of bioterrorism.

Most susceptible to EV are the millions of Americans, including many young children, who have a history of atopic dermatitis, the allergy-related skin condition better known as eczema. People with weakened immune systems also are at risk. If not treated in time, EV has a mortality rate of up to 6 percent, and as high as 30 percent among children under age 2.

CHB's Division of Immunology will play a leading role in a nationwide research network, launched by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), that will investigate why atopic dermatitis predisposes smallpox vaccine recipients to EV.

"Since 5 percent of kids and about 1 percent of adults have atopic dermatitis, the risk is great should a decision be made to mass vaccinate," says Dr. Raif Geha, chief of Immunology at CHB. "EV can develop even in people with mild atopic dermatitis, as well as healthy people who had atopic dermatitis in the past. Also, since the virus in the smallpox vaccine is live, it can spread from contact with people who have been vaccinated."

Geha will head up the Animal Studies Consortium under the contract, coordinating animal studies at CHB and five subcontracting institutions under a five-year, $10 million grant. Geha's own lab will establish a mouse model for atopic dermatitis, explo
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Contact: Mary-Ellen Shay
mary.shay@childrens.harvard.edu
617-355-6420
Children's Hospital Boston
23-Jul-2004


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