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Stanford scientists help bring study of smallpox virus into 'molecular age'

In one of two companion articles published in this week's advance online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, David A. Relman, MD, associate professor of medicine and of microbiology and immunology, and his colleagues identify a number of distinctive molecular events that occur in monkeys following infection with the smallpox virus that do not occur in monkeys infected with a different virus. They hope their findings will lead to better strategies for combating the highly contagious and frequently fatal disease. Their work provides a foundation for future testing of better vaccines, potential drugs for treatment, and new diagnostic tools, especially during the early stages of smallpox infection. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

"The amazing thing about smallpox is that it is a virus that killed more humans than any other infectious agent in history, yet we know very little about the mechanisms by which it caused disease," Relman said.

The Stanford team launched its project after learning that a study of smallpox infection in monkeys was under way at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That project is being conducted jointly by the CDC and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Stanford scientists worked with blood samples at the CDC to obtain data about changes in the animals' immune systems.

It was only five years ago that scientists were prepared to destroy the last two official remaining collections of live smallpox virus. In that year, however, the U.S. National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine recommended that work with live virus be pursued for the primary purpose of antiviral drug development. The following year, the World Health Assembly agreed to this plan, postponing the destruction of the virus. Today, with fears that terrorists could develop the virus, researchers are using the s
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Contact: Mitzi Baker
mitzibaker@stanford.edu
650-725-2106
Stanford University Medical Center
5-Oct-2004


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