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Weill Cornell team develops fast-acting anthrax vaccine

Using gene transfer technology, investigators were able to immunize mice against anthrax in just 12 hours, according to new research featured in the February 2005 issue of Molecular Therapy, the peer-reviewed scientific journal of the American Society of Gene Therapy (ASGT).

In any bioterror attack, vaccines that provide a rapid, effective defense against the pathogen will be key to saving lives. Research underway at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City may provide health officials with a much quicker option than vaccines currently available, which can take weeks or months to gain full effect.

"This research is important, because in the event of an attack, it may not be known whether another attack is coming -- or who might be affected. In that case, you want immunity to be built up in key populations as quickly as possible," said Dr. Ronald G. Crystal, Chairman of the Department of Genetic Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College and Chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Vaccines tend to fall into one of two groups -- active vaccines, where the body is prompted over time to build up antibodies against specific threats; and passive vaccines, where fully-formed antibodies are delivered to the body in vaccine form.

"Because the body continues to produce antibodies, active vaccines last much longer than the passive kind, whose effectiveness tends to diminish over time," Dr. Crystal explained.

But active vaccines have one major drawback: they need lots of time to develop. For example, the anthrax vaccine provided to US Army troops following the 2001 attacks requires that troops receive six doses stretched over 18 months. Populations threatened by the sudden dispersal of deadly anthrax spores won't have the luxury of that much time. So Cornell researchers turned their attention to faster-acting passive vaccines.

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Contact: Sean Kelliher
212-821-0560
American Society of Gene Therapy
12-Jan-2005


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