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Smallpox in 50-year-old tissues detected by integrated diagnostics approach

A rare, preserved specimen of human tissue infected with Variola virus, the causative agent of smallpox, has given scientists the unique opportunity to test modern diagnostic capabilities for the virus.

Smallpox, a devastating disease, was eradicated in 1979 through the efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO). Currently, infectious Variola (a species of the genus Orthopoxvirus) is known to exist only in two WHO-sanctioned repositories, one in Russia and the other at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. However, there is concern that undisclosed reference stocks of the virus may exist--and given its potential as a biological threat agent, improved methods of detection and identification are a high priority.

According to an article published in this month's issue of Laboratory Investigation, the specimen used in the study was part of a private collection archived at the Indiana University School of Dentistry. The university investigation determined the specimen--an intact forearm and hand, presumably from a child--to be about 50 years old. It was offered to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) for further analysis.

"This was a unique chance for us to test all the assays and techniques that we had been working on for a potential biothreat agent--and to do it using a real sample of a disease that no longer occurs," said lead author Randal J. Schoepp. The USAMRIID team included Michelle D. Morin, Mark J. Martinez, David A. Kulesh, Lisa Hensley, Thomas W. Geisbert, and Peter B. Jahrling, with Daniel R. Brady of Indiana University also contributing to the study.

According to Schoepp, working with the specimen was a challenge. It had been maintained under less-than-ideal storage conditions, exposed to extremes of temperature, and preserved in fixative for decades. Nonetheless, it afforded an unparalleled opportunity to test a modern, integrated diagnostic approa
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Contact: Caree Vander Linden
Caree.Vander-Linden@amedd.army.mil
301-619-2285
US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases
29-Jan-2004


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