Queen's to tackle anthrax threat

Published Thursday, 08 November 2012
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Scientists at Queen's University Belfast are aiming to help counteract the threat of bioterrorism by undertaking new research to develop a vaccine against anthrax.

Queen's to tackle anthrax threat
A team at Queen's will contribute to the NATO-funded project. (© Pacemaker)

Dr Rebecca Ingram from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences has joined scientists from Cardiff University, the Republic of Georgia, Turkey and the USA in a €255,000 NATO funded project to tackle the potential misuse of anthrax.

The research project is expected to take three years to complete.

Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by a type of bacteria called Bacillus anthracis, which infects the skin, gastrointestinal tract, or lungs. Infection is most commonly caused by contact with animals or animals products.

Anthrax is not a problem in the UK due to robust veterinary services and access to an effective animal vaccine, but it is still a threat in less developed parts of the world such as eastern Turkey and Georgia.

The bacteria has been used as a biological weapon, in 2001, five people died after a strain of anthrax was sent through the American postal system.

Dr Ingram is based in Queen's Centre for Infection and Immunity which, last year, developed the first ever drug to treat the 'Celtic Gene' in Cystic Fibrosis sufferers.

Speaking about the research, she said: "Currently the majority of the world's population is susceptible to infection with Bacillus anthracis the bacterium which causes anthrax.

The US postal attacks in 2001 highlighted the vulnerability of civilian populations and brought home the need to develop effective, rapid, robust medical countermeasures to combat the threat posed by terrorist use of this organism.

Dr Rebecca Ingram, Queen's University Belfast

She continued: "We at Queen's will be working with lead investigator Professor Les Baillie from Cardiff University and colleagues in the US, Turkey and Georgia to develop effective vaccines to tackle the problem.

"Within the study we will be testing the antibodies and immune cells from the blood of people who have been exposed to anthrax. Either people known to have been previously infected who live in endemic regions of Turkey and Georgia, or people who have been vaccinated with the licensed UK, US or Georgian vaccines.

"This research will allow identification of key protective targets for the immune system on the bacteria helping to underpin the development of future vaccines capable of conferring broad-spectrum, rapid, robust protection following minimal dosing."

Professor Les Baillie from Cardiff University, who leads the multi-national research collaboration said: "It is the growing concern over the threat posed by bioterrorism that has prompted world authorities like NATO through its Science for Peace and Security Programme to support efforts to develop more effective vaccines and medical countermeasures.

"Such vaccines would impact on two levels, locally they would directly improve the lives of workers at risk of contracting anthrax such as farmers in Georgia and Turkey, and globally they would contribute to the protection of citizens from the use of anthrax as an agent of bio-terrorism."

The project will see a vaccine research centre established in Georgia, with scientists from the centre spending a period of time training with the team at Queen's University.

© UTV News
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