UC Irvine scientists to develop vaccine to combat bioterrorism threat from deadly bacteria

Irvine, Calif., Aug. 25, 2004 -- Researchers at UC Irvine will develop a vaccine against the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei, an organism that can be dispersed by an aerosol spray and used as an agent for biological terrorism. The research will be supported by a $5.8 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.

B. pseudomallei, which is resistant to many antibiotics, causes melioidosis, an infectious and deadly disease that affects humans and animals. At present, no vaccine against melioidosis exists.

"The development of a vaccine against B. pseudomallei is a national and worldwide goal, and is the best way to blunt a bioterrorist threat," said Philip Felgner, principal investigator of the research project and director of the proteomics laboratory within the Center for Virus Research. "Even if we have antibiotics, it will be difficult to treat everyone affected. With the availability of a safe and effective vaccine, however, terrorists may not even proceed to develop weapons that use B. pseudomallei."

Melioidosis occurs primarily in tropical regions, such as Southeast Asia and northern Australia. It is currently the leading cause of sepsis in northeastern Thailand, where infection rates are high during the rainy season since the bacterium thrives in water. Transmission occurs when humans and animals inhale dust bearing the bacteria, when they drink contaminated water, or when their skin abrasions come into direct contact with contaminated soil. Contact with the blood or body fluids of an infected person also can spread the disease.

Symptoms of melioidosis include fever, anorexia, muscle aches and chest pain. The disease can result in pulmonary infections ranging from mild bronchitis to severe pneumonia. Some patients also suffer septic shock. <

Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
University of California - Irvine

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