As Ebola epidemic begins to slow, trials of drugs and vaccines speed up
JAMA, Feb. 11, 2015
As local and international public health officials work to end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, efforts to develop therapies and vaccines against the virus are ramping up. The ongoing epidemic has sparked an unprecedented level of multinational cooperation to speed clinical trials of potential therapeutics and vaccines. Several interventions for Ebola currently entering early-phase clinical trials were developed years ago, said UTMB’s Thomas Geisbert. But until the current large-scale, multicountry outbreak that began in 2013, there wasn’t a sense of urgency or much funding for clinical trials. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Geisbert. “It really was the outbreak that pushed things to the forefront.”
Tropical holiday checklist should include chikungunya precautions
Houston Public Media, Dec. 24, 2014
Winter travelers heading to the Caribbean and other destinations to the south are being warned about chikungunya, a virus carried by mosquitos that is new to this part of the world. The virus is rarely fatal, but can cause fever and terrible joint pain that can sometimes linger for months or years. UTMB’s Scott Weaver said chikungunya is now established in the Americas and continues to spread. “Almost everywhere, every country in central America is now affected. Southern Mexico now has chikungunya. The Caribbean islands, most of them still have chikungunya, although the peak of the outbreak has probably passed on most of the islands.” Weaver said if you’re staying anywhere in the affected areas, especially if there are no screens or air conditioning, you should protect yourself with insect repellent and clothing. “If you start feeling severe pain in your muscles and your joints, severe headache, if you develop a high fever, you should seek medical attention,” Weaver said.
UTMB professor among Time 'Person of Year' Ebola group
Houston Chronicle, December 11, 2014
A University of Texas Medical Branch researcher testing vaccines and treatments for the Ebola virus was among a group named Wednesday as Time Magazine's 2014 Person of the Year. Dr. Thomas Geisbert is one of the magazine's "Ebola fighters" who received the annual honor. He is a professor of microbiology and immunology at UTMB in Galveston. An Ebola vaccine developed by Geisbert and a collaborator recently moved to human trials. "We're extremely proud of Dr. Geisbert and his work as well as the cutting-edge research that so many of our scientists are conducting," UTMB President David M. Callender said in a statement. Geisbert, who has been studying the Ebola virus for 30 years, told the magazine, "When I do this work, I take it personally." One of the experimental drugs he worked on, TKM-Ebola, has been given to patients who survived the virus, he said. Others in the group selected by the magazine include doctors and nurses who continued fighting the disease in West Africa even after becoming infected themselves. "For their tireless acts of courage and mercy, for buying the world time to strengthen its defenses, for the risks they took and the lives they saved, the Ebola fighters are Time's 2014 Person of the Year," Time editor Nancy Gibbs said in a video posted on the magazine's Web site. The news also appears in The Houston Business Journal, The Galveston Daily News, KHOU-CBS Houston, Contacto Latino News, American Towns and Galveston.com.
Time magazine to feature healthcare workers fighting Ebola
KPRC-NBC Houston, December 10, 2014
2014 will go down in history as the year Ebola crossed into our borders and threatened the lives of American healthcare workers. The World Health Organization is working this week to figure out ways to restore health care systems shattered by the outbreak across the globe. One Houston doctor who traveled to Sierra Leone to fight the virus said it’s important to stay focused on the fight. “The key to making it stop altogether is controlling the outbreak on the ground,” UTMB's Dr. Thomas Ksiazek said. For some doctors and researchers, a call to action means keeping the human population safe from disease, no matter the cost. “For me, the reward is actually through having participated in these things,” Ksiazek said about treating Ebola victims in West Africa. “And sort of controlling the disease.” Ksaizek, and the countless others who travel abroad in order to contain the virus in West Africa, will be represented by five people on the cover of Time magazine.
Another Ebola challenge: Disposing of medical waste
Los Angeles Times, Oct. 20, 2014
A single Ebola patient treated in a U.S. hospital will generate eight 55-gallon barrels of medical waste each day. Dealing with this collection of pathogen-filled debris without triggering new infections is a legal and logistical challenge for every U.S. hospital now preparing for a potential visit by the virus. Dr. Thomas Ksiazek, a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at UTMB, has said he believes there's been a lot of overreaction on the topic of Ebola medical waste. "There are other ways to deal with the waste; autoclaving would be chief among them," Ksiazek said. "The problem is most hospitals don't use it for most disposable items. They're quite happy to bag them up and send them to a regular medical disposal company."
UTMB prepares to treat possible future Ebola patients
KUHF-FM (Houston Public Media, 88.7), Oct. 17, 2014
UTMB is prepared because there is already a level 4 biocontainment research lab on the UTMB campus. Ebola is securely stored in the lab, along with other pathogens, and scientists there study it and even test possible treatments on monkeys called macaques. The nearby hospital has been practicing medical drills for years just in case a scientist gets accidentally infected with Ebola, which has never happened. Tom Ksiazek is a UTMB virologist, who just returned from six weeks in Sierra Leone, leading CDC efforts to fight Ebola. Ksiazek says he’s surprised at the level of hysteria among Americans here.
Ebola Vaccine Trials Carry Risks for Companies in Chase
Bloomberg Businessweek, Oct. 20, 2014
Each of the Ebola vaccines being lined up for testing carries potential downsides, researchers say, ranging from efficacy that faded in less than a year to the chance it will give healthy people flu-like symptoms. Human trials, just starting on some vaccines, could also unveil unknown side effects, an unwelcome possibility for shots designed to be taken by people who may never be infected with Ebola. Because of this, it is imperative we cast a wide net in seeking a solution. Currently, safety testing has begun on vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline Plc and NewLink Genetics Corp. Trials for three other vaccines will begin later next year, but although they show some signs of effectiveness in animals does not mean they will work on humans, said Thomas Geisbert, a virologist at UTMB.
Another Ebola challenge: disposing of medical waste
McClatchy DC, Oct. 20, 2014
A single Ebola patient treated in a U.S. hospital will generate eight 55 gallon barrels of medical waste each day. Protective gloves, gowns, masks and booties are donned and doffed by all who approach the patient's bedside and then discarded. Disposable medical instruments, packaging, bed linens, cups, plates, tissues, towels, pillowcases and anything that is used to clean up after the patient must be thrown away. Dealing with this collection of pathogen-filled debris without triggering new infections is a legal and logistical challenge for every U.S. hospital. Dr. Thomas Ksiazek, a professor of microbiology and immunology at UTMB, believes there's been a lot of overreaction on the topic of Ebola medical waste because there are a number of ways to deal with it. The CDC recommend autoclaving (a form of sterilizing) or incinerating the waste as a surefire means of destroying the microbes. This will pose the biggest challenge for states such as California where burning infected waste is effectively prohibited.
Fauci and Collins agree to agree on Ebola vaccine development and NIH funding
AAAS Science Magazine, Oct. 20, 2014
Many are discussing whether the lack of funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health is the reason we do not have an Ebola vaccine already, but as it turns out, Fauci and Collins agree that big pharma’s lack of interest in Ebola vaccine development is the main reason no product was ready for this epidemic. Thomas Geisbert with UTMB is also mentioned in the article and agrees with that statement.
How the microscopic Ebola virus kills thousands
The Washington Post, Oct. 18, 2014
The fear of Ebola has spread faster in America than the virus itself. Ebola has infected the American psyche, forcing us to do risk analysis of a pathogen we know little about. This is different from the flu scares of recent years, because this virus is novel here, and we have no cultural memory of what we are supposed to do, or think, or believe, when Ebola is on the loose. However, there is a reason it’s not everywhere in the U.S. yet and that’s because it’s not as easy to transmit as believed. In theory, a single virus particle, a virion, is capable of being infectious and, after replicating billions of times, killing the host. That makes Ebola unusually infectious and virulent. But that’s not the same thing as contagious. Thomas Geisbert at UTMB discusses how the Ebola virus increases as the disease progresses, which is why a person infected but without symptoms will not spread the virus initially since there’s still little virus present within their body. Ebola in humans is spread only through direct contact with virus-laden bodily fluids, and is not as transmissible as such airborne viruses as influenza and measles.
Experimental Ebola treatments bypassing usual regulatory hurdles
Voice of America, Oct. 15, 2014
Experimental Ebola treatments are moving with lightning speed through a regulatory process that, for most drugs, can take years. The urgency of the lethal epidemic in three West African countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, means a number of promising treatments are bypassing the usual hurdles toward approval. Before a new drug gets the green light from U.S. regulators, researchers are required to conduct in-depth clinical trials on people to demonstrate the experimental compound is both safe and effective. Drug trials typically involve thousands of people and can take many years to complete. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s so-called “animal rule,” however, allows researchers to gain expedited approval when faced with a deadly pathogen like Ebola, according to UTMB’s Thomas Geisbert. Geisbert helped develop what’s known as the VSV Ebola vaccine, which this week moved to human clinical trials in 20 healthy volunteers at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland. The animal rule, according to Geisbert, requires only that scientists demonstrate that a compound is effective in an animal model of human disease, in this case monkeys.
NBC Nightly News, Oct. 14, 2014
UTMBs Thomas Geisbert discusses whether blood transfusions from surviving Ebola patients can help new patients in their fight. The story begins at 4:10 and Geisbert appears at 5:40. A similar story appears on NBCNews.com.
Long quest for Ebola vaccine slowed by science, ethics, politics
National Geographic, Oct. 14, 2014
Without any approved drugs, current Ebola treatment consists mainly of so-called supportive therapy, in which the patient is kept hydrated and symptoms including fever and other illnesses, like malaria, are treated. Thousands of drugs have been screened against the virus, in hopes that one or two would kill it. Probably hundreds of those show some effectiveness in a Petri dish, and many also work against the virus in small animals. "I've got shelves of things that protect mice and guinea pigs against Ebola," said UTMBs Thomas Geisbert. But only two drugs have been shown to protect monkeys against the virus: ZMapp and TKM-Ebola.
Ebola expert: How health care workers can avoid the disease
Voice of America, Oct. 11, 2014
Ebola expert Tom Ksiazek said properly removing the protective clothing is vital. “Contaminating one’s face, particularly the mucus membranes, your eyes, nose and mouth, is probably the route that most people who get infected with Ebola are exposing themselves by and that includes health care workers,” he said. He said that can be avoided with proper precautions. "Part of what stops that from happening is an appropriate level of training, and also supervision during the process of wearing and taking it off by other individuals who are monitoring you.” Ksiazek is a former official with the CDC. He recently returned from monitoring a CDC mission in Sierra Leone where outbreaks continue. He said it’s hard to control Ebola in the worst-affected West African countries: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which suffer from poor health care, a lack of medical equipment, and more. “I think is largely a matter of the scope being more difficult to handle by the time outside assistance and resources were brought to bear,” he said. The U.S. government has taken measures to ensure American hospitals are prepared to treat Ebola patients, after the first documented case in Texas, a Liberian man who traveled to the United States. Hospitals are quarantining people who could be at risk. Ksiazek said any U.S. hospital should be capable of treating someone with Ebola. "The normal level of infection control used in the U.S. is such that they would minimize the chance of spread to begin with. The type of general hospitals that we have are quite capable of handling this,” he said.
Research doesn’t rule out transmission by floating droplets
Dallas Morning News, Oct. 13, 2014
During a 1995 outbreak of Ebola in Kikwit, Congo, a team of scientists studied 316 people diagnosed with the disease. For the vast majority, there was an explanation of how they contracted the disease. They had a history of very close contact with a patient and body fluids, many of them in a hospital where patients were being treated. But for 12 people there was no clear explanation of how they had become infected, said Dr. C.J. Peters, a virologist at UTMB. He headed the research team when he worked for the CDC. Because there was no evidence that those 12 people had been close to an Ebola patient, the researchers said they had to consider such possibilities as droplets containing virus, airborne virus particles or the touching of a contaminated object. “The patterns suggest that most, if not all, of the infections are due to direct contact with fluids,” Peters said. “However, I cannot exclude based on the evidence that we had, a minority might be due to small particle aerosols.” Experts say that people need to realize that different researchers or officials using terms such as airborne, aerosol, and airborne droplets may not be using the words to mean the same thing. Ultimately, experts say, scientists have to base recommendations on how the virus is behaving in the real world. “I’ve walked the ground in these outbreaks many a time and for extensive periods,” said Dr. Thomas Ksiazek, an Ebola researcher at UTMB. “And I really don’t have a fear of becoming infected in that environment. If it was airborne, that would be a lot different situation and I wouldn’t have come to those same conclusions.”
Small drugmakers try to scale up to meet Ebola crisis
Washington Post, Oct. 9, 2014
Thomas Geisbert, a professor at UTMB who has researched Ebola for decades, said that even if the drug manufacturers are able to scale up quickly, he sees no prospect that the medications will halt the epidemic in West Africa. Even the vaccines that are under development won’t be available until 2015, at the earliest. “It’s not the cure-all,” he said. “A magic bullet to get ourselves out of this isn’t going to happen.” And since all previous Ebola outbreaks were relatively small and contained, there was no market for the drugs. Large companies left the job to smaller ones, such as Mapp and Tekmira. Now the demand is huge, and the companies and the government are racing to respond. “It takes time,” said Geisbert, who was involved in the early development of numerous drugs for the virus when he worked for the Defense Department and who has conducted animal trials for TKM-Ebola. “You end up with a situation where these companies weren’t set up to ramp up [production]. You don’t just go from that to making 10,000 doses overnight.” He believes Tekmira and Mapp appear to have the most promising Ebola treatments in the pipeline.
A&M-affiliated company could be tasked with Ebola-drug production
Houston Chronicle, Oct. 10, 2014
Because of the economics of drug development, there's no stockpile of ZMapp or any other drug known or thought to be effective in the fight against of Ebola. “A stockpile sounds great,” said Alan Barrett, director of the UTMB’s Sealy Center for Vaccine Development. “But you can only stockpile for so long. Nothing is stockpiled beyond three years.” Small companies rely on government and nonprofit funding to pay for the years of clinical trials and testing required to ensure the drugs and vaccines they develop are effective and safe for humans. Development costs can surpass $1 billion. They start by producing a few doses, not hundreds of thousands, said Barrett.
UTMB researcher returns from Ebola stricken Sierra Leone
BioNews Texas, Oct. 8, 2014
Dr. Thomas Ksiazek, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology of UTMB, member of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, former head of the CDC Special Pathogens Unit and director of the High-Containment Laboratory Operations at the GNL, has returned from Sierra Leone, one of the epicenters of the Ebola outbreak. Ksiazek along with other experts from UTMB is focused on battling the Ebola virus by providing clinical research, vaccine development, and outbreak response. UTMB researchers are now working on new vaccines and a broad spectrum of treatments for highly lethal viruses like Ebola. Ksiazek received a $26 million collaborative Center of Excellence for Translational Research grant to continue his research. Supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, Ksiazek will collaborate with several researchers and institutions. The capabilities of UTMB’s Sealy Center for Vaccine Development are enhancing this work, since it is one of the most comprehensive vaccine development centers in the world. SCVD researchers are dedicated to finding new ways to treat infectious diseases of every type. The Center was inaugurated in December of 2001, and it includes more than 80 faculty members and more than 100 research programs at the present.
Local doctor helped track Ebola outbreak
KPRC-TV (NBC 2, Houston), Oct. 3, 2014
Dr. Tom Ksiazek of UTMB speaks on his experiences studying and tracking Ebola.
Patient at Texas Children's Hospital tests negative for enterovirus
KPRC-TV (NBC 2, Houston), Oct. 7, 2014
An enterovirus D68 test for a child patient at Texas Children's Hospital came back negative. According to the city's health department, it was the first test sent out from the Houston area. Over the weekend, we learned about the first death directly linked to the virus, a 4-year-old boy in New Jersey. According to the UTMB Galveston National Laboratory, respiratory viruses like enterovirus are actually relatively common this time of year. But this year there are more cases that seem more severe. "To see something this unusually severe and causes severe symptoms is a bit unusual and the fact that it's spreading quickly," said Joan Nichols, with the GNL. Typical symptoms include a runny nose and fever, and possibly a cough. Patients with asthma or difficulty breathing are most at risk. "Obviously high fever, problems with breathing, immediately those would be kind of things you would seek care at maybe an emergency room or at least from your family physician," Nichols said. The best advice to prevent your child from getting sick is just common sense advice: wash your hands, don't touch your eyes or nose and stay away from others if you are sick.
Ebola: Just one subject for new infectious disease task force
KUHF-FM (88.7, Houston Public Radio), Oct. 8, 2014
Gov. Rick Perry nominated 16 members of the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response. It includes Drs. James LeDuc and Tom Ksiazek of UTMB. After touring UTMB’s Galveston National Laboratory, where some of the world’s most infectious diseases are studied, Dr. Brett Giroir of the Texas A&M Health Science Center talked about what the task force aims to accomplish. “No. 1, we are all providing immediate support, assessment, guidance, recommendations and are in close contact with the team on the ground in Dallas managing the first Ebola case,” he said, “and all the monitoring of potential contacts and those exposed.” He said the task force will be working on recommendations for how to prepare for infectious diseases and not just Ebola.
News of Gov. Rick Perry’s tour of the GNL also appears in:
Houston Chronicle: Gov. Perry tours Galveston lab where Ebola cures under development
KPRC-TV (NBC 2): Gov. Perry praises Galveston lab's work on Ebola
KTRK-TV (ABC 13): Gov. Perry in Galveston to tour UTMB facilities
KHOU-TV (CBS 11): Gov. Perry praises Galveston lab's work on Ebola
KTRH-AM (740): Perry touts Galveston lab in Ebola fight
Galveston Daily News: With Ebola on state’s mind, Perry visits Galveston research lab
Continued Ebola coverage featuring UTMB experts, including Thomas Geisbert, James LeDuc and A. Scott Lea:
New York Magazine: A guide to the experimental treatments being used to fight Ebola
Houston Business Journal: Top 3 ways to prevent Ebola at your company
Washington Post: Why new airport screening still can’t prevent more Ebola cases in the U.S.
Newsweek: How the CDC would combat an Ebola outbreak, however unlikely
Six weeks in Sierra Leone: Galveston Ebola researcher shares experience
KUHF-FM (Houston Public Radio, 88.7), Oct. 6, 2014
As the Ebola scare continues, one of Texas' most renowned epidemiologists was tasked with helping efforts to control the outbreak in one country. Dr. Tom Ksiazek, an epidemiologist at UTMB, recently came back from Sierra Leone, which has been hit hard by the Ebola outbreak. He led outbreak containment operations there; something he has done many times as the head of the Special Pathogens unit at the Centers for Disease Control since the mid-1970s. Ksiazek is also the director of the high containment laboratory operations for the Galveston National Laboratory, where some of the world's most dangerous viruses are studied. The news also appeared on KTRK-TV (ABC, Ch. 13) and KPRC-TV (CBS, Ch. 2).
How hospitals test for Ebola
Newsweek, Oct. 3, 2014
Public health officials have announced that the first patient to ever be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. is being treated at a hospital in Texas. But how do you actually test to see if someone has the virus? Thomas Ksiazek, a professor at UTMB who has done extensive research on Ebola, says that testing is done using a process called real-time RT-PCR, or reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. In this technique, doctors or medical personnel take samples of blood from a patient. They then add an enzyme to convert RNA found in the blood into DNA (RNA is a chemical messenger that helps turn DNA’s “instructions” into proteins). Next, a “primer” is added that targets a string of genetic code unique to the Ebola virus. The concoction is then run through a PCR machine, wherein that strand of Ebola genetic material is amplified, or copied, many times (if it’s there, that is. If it’s not, nothing happens and the test returns a negative.) Finally, a chemical probe is added that binds to these snippets of DNA and alerts the scientists to the presence of the Ebola virus, Ksiazek tells Newsweek. The whole process can take as little as three to four hours.
Q&A: Will Ebola virus spread in Dallas? Not likely, expert says
Dallas Morning News, Oct. 5, 2014
There is no specific treatment for Ebola, but the World Health Organization is looking at three experimental treatments. “Two of those are way, way ahead of the third,” said Tom Geisbert, professor of microbiology and immunology at UTMB. Manufacturing large batches of these drugs can be technically challenging, and testing them in humans can take many months, if not years. Geisbert warned that enthusiasm should be tempered. “There are no guarantees,” he said, and it won’t be until “sometime next year” that treatments or vaccines could be available. Additional Ebola news featuring UTMB experts appears in Forbes, on WebMD and in the New York Times.
Ugandan health worker dies of Marburg virus, Ebola relative
Forbes, Oct. 5, 2014
The Ugandan Ministry of Health is reporting today that a 30-year-old male health care worker died of Marburg hemorrhagic fever on September 30. Marburg is one of the five members of the family of filoviruses, to which Ebola belongs. Like Ebola, a person infected with Marburg will experience a sudden onset of fever. The most common additional signs are headache, joint and muscle pains, vomiting blood, and bleeding through body openings. The disease has a two to 21-day incubation period and, like Ebola, has no cure other than supportive treatment. Tekmira Pharmaceuticals of Burnaby, British Columbia, has a lipid nanoparticle, RNA interfering drug that also protects non-human primates from Marburg infection. This work, done with Thomas Geisbert at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, appeared in Science Translational Medicine in August. There, the drug is called NP-718m-LNP, but Tekmira’s website currently calls it TKM-Marburg.
LeDuc: We need to act now to stop Ebola
Austin American-Statesman, Sept. 28, 2014
In this op-ed, UTMBs Jim LeDuc writes that the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is out of control. “While the U.S. and other nations are starting to engage, we need to act now. Recent estimates suggest thousands of new cases will occur in the absence of prompt action.”
Local doctor helped track Ebola outbreak in West Africa
KPRC-TV (CBS 2, Houston), Oct. 1, 2014
A doctor from UTMB is sharing his experience in Sierra Leone after returning from a six-week trip. Dr. Tom Ksiazek left for Sierra Leone in August and recently returned to the United States last week. The former CDC employee now works at UTMB as the director of high containment laboratory operations at UTMB's Galveston National Laboratory. He was asked by the CDC to travel to Sierra Leone, one of the countries hit hardest by the Ebola virus. During his trip Dr. Ksiazek stayed primarily in Sierra Leone's capital city of Freetown. It wasn't his first time dealing with an Ebola outbreak. The news also appears in the Houston Chronicle.
Ebola panic in America might help save lives in Africa
Washington Post, Oct. 2, 2014
In an ideal world, America's Ebola panic will come with a silver lining: a recognition that Ebola is a truly global problem, and protecting the health of Americans will probably start by saving the lives of thousands of people in West Africa. "Raising public awareness probably does have the potential to make things better in Africa perhaps through things like donations to humanitarian aid organizations, for example," Thomas Geisbert, a professor at UTMB who has studied Ebola for years, explains, pointing to how the outbreaks in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have revealed the fragility of their health systems. "One of the challenges in West Africa has been the poor public health infrastructure and running low or not having basic items such as proper protective gear (gloves, gowns, face protection, etc.)."
First U.S. case of Ebola diagnosed in Texas after man who came from Liberia falls ill
Washington Post, Oct. 1, 2014
A man who flew from Liberia to Dallas this month was diagnosed with Ebola on Tuesday, becoming the first person to board a passenger jet and unknowingly bring the disease here from West Africa, where it has killed thousands of people in recent months. “It was inevitable once the outbreak exploded,” said Thomas Geisbert, a professor at UTMB, who has researched Ebola for decades. “Unless you were going to shut down airports and keep people from leaving [West Africa], it’s hard to stop somebody from getting on a plane.” But Geisbert quickly underscored how unlikely the virus is to spread in the United States. For starters, he said, officials placed the sick man in quarantine quickly to prevent him from potentially infecting others. In addition, health workers are already contacting and monitoring any others with whom he might have had contact in recent days. “The system that was put in place worked the way it was supposed to work,” Geisbert said. The news appears widely across the nation, including in USA Today and New York Magazine.
UTMB doctors part of Ebola fight, trying to create vaccine for deadly virus
KTRK-TV (ABC 13, Houston), Sept. 30, 2014
Even before Dallas reported the nation's first confirmed case of Ebola, doctors in Galveston has been working on a vaccine and treatment for the deadly virus that has killed more than 3,000 people in western Africa. The island is home to one of the few Biosafety Level 4 labs in the world and tackles the deadliest contagious diseases known to man. Thomas Geisbert, a professor of microbiology and immunology at UTMB, daily suits up in what amounts to a space suit to tackle the Ebola virus. The work has produced encouraging results. "We have preventive vaccine and antiviral drugs that can completely protect against Ebola on laboratory animals in a lab setting," he says.
Mosquito virus that walloped Caribbean spreads in U.S.
Bloomberg Businessweek, Oct. 1, 2014
The virus is called Chikungunya, an African name meaning “to become contorted.” While the illness, first identified in Tanzania in 1952, has long bedeviled Africa and Asia, the only recorded cases in the U.S. before July involved patients who contracted the virus abroad. Now, 11 cases have been confirmed as originating in Florida, spurring concern this may be the beginning of the type of explosive growth seen elsewhere from a disease that has no vaccine or cure. Medical and environmental experts are debating how best to quell the outbreak before it takes off. “In a way it’s surprising it hasn’t been here yet,” said Scott Weaver, a professor at UTMB. Other medical experts suggest that when mosquitoes disappear during the Florida winter, any outbreak will lessen. Still, it could remain a problem in areas of the state that have already been susceptible to other mosquito diseases, Weaver said. “I don’t think we’ll see outbreaks that large,” Weaver said, referring to the outbreaks in the Caribbean and Central America. “But we’ll see small focal outbreaks where an infected traveler comes home to their community.”
Lab results: Post-exposure Marburg treatment effective in monkeys
JAMA, Oct. 1, 2014
In monkeys infected with deadly Marburg virus, a pathogen that is closely related to Ebola virus, treatment with a small interfering RNA molecule encased in a lipid nanoparticle was effective, even after signs of illness were detectable. All 16 macaques that received treatment beginning at 30 to 45 minutes, 1 day, 2 days, or 3 days after infection survived, while all 5 mock-treated control animals died between days 7 and 9 after infection. The research, led by investigators at UTMB, represents the first time that a post-exposure treatment has completely protected nonhuman primates against the Angola strain of MARV, which in 2005 caused the largest human outbreak of Marburg-associated hemorrhagic fever to date, with a mortality rate of 90 percent in more than 200 confirmed cases.
Spread of Ebola in West Africa outpaces resources
CBS Evening News, Sept. 26, 2014
The World Health Organization said Friday the West Africa Ebola outbreak has killed more than 3,000 people and infected more than 6,500. The United States is sending 3,000 military personnel to build 17 treatment facilities in the weeks ahead, but there's only a handful there now. New therapies and vaccines are being developed. But they won't be available for many months, says Ebola researcher Thomas Geisbert of UTMB. "The goal at this point is to contain it, isolate, quarantine the affected people," said Geisbert. "That's the more important thing that can be done right now, more so than the vaccines or the treatment. I'm not sure that they will be available really to manage this current outbreak."
Mosquito-borne virus spreading rapidly in Latin America
Houston Chronicle, Sept. 26, 2014
An excruciating mosquito-borne illness that arrived less than a year ago in the Americas is raging across the region, leaping from the Caribbean to the Central and South American mainland and infecting more than 1 million people. Some cases already have emerged in the United States. There have been a few locally transmitted cases in Florida, and it has the potential to spread farther, experts say, but Central and South America are particularly vulnerable with the prevalence of the main vector for the virus, the aedes aegypti mosquito, and the lack of immunity in a population that hasn't been hit with chikungunya in modern medical history, said Scott Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at UTMB. "There are going to be some very large populations at risk down there, much larger than the Caribbean," Weaver said. The Associated Press article appears in dozens of news outlets around the world, including KTRK-TV (Houston), the Denver Post, the Miami Herald and AOL.com.
The 5 biggest mistakes in the Ebola outbreak
Time Magazine, Sept. 25, 2014
The scarcity of drugs and vaccines is not due to a lack of innovation. Drugs have been in development for years, but since pharmaceutical companies have had no financial incentive to fund them, researchers have hit walls. “People like me and others who have worked for years in vaccines and countermeasures are frustrated,” Thomas Geisbert, a professor of microbiology and immunology at UTMB, said in an earlier TIME article. The supply of ZMapp, the drug that was given to a few health care workers, is exhausted. It comes from a small pharmaceutical company with nine employees, and the drug grows in a tobacco plant, requiring scientists to wait for a new crop to grow just for a new batch. Thankfully, clinical trials for other drugs have kicked off.
West Africans are key to fighting Ebola
Los Angeles Times, Sept. 26, 2014
Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, a 39-year-old Sierra Leonean physician, was one of the Ebola epidemic's victims. A star in Sierra Leone's medical establishment, Khan took care of more than 100 Ebola patients, including two nurses at the hospital in Kenema, before he contracted Ebola. An airplane stood on the tarmac for 72 hours waiting to fly him out of Sierra Leone, but layers of international bureaucracy kept him off the plane until it was too late. The only way to combat the virus effectively is for Westerners to recognize the critical value of the indigenous physicians and healthcare workers, to protect them, and to earn back the confidence of the peoples of West Africa. “It would have been such a good thing if Khan had been saved, because it would have shown people that there is a path forward,” says virologist and Ebola expert Thomas W. Geisbert of UTMB.
Chikungunya virus concern growing
Medscape Medical News, Sept. 23, 2014
In addition to Florida, the Texas-Mexico border could become a hotbed of chikungunya transmission, said Scott Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity and scientific director of the Galveston National Laboratory at UTMB. Several chikungunya vaccines are under development. Weaver's group is partnered with Takeda Pharma and is working on a live attenuated vaccine that has shown promise in nonhuman primates, he said. Another vaccine recently went into human trials in Europe and uses a measles virus vector. Still another, a non live replicating vaccine developed by the National Institutes of Health, was "fairly immunogenic" in phase 1 human clinical trials.
American doctor got experimental drug from Tekmira
USA Today, Sept. 23, 2014
American physician Richard Sacra, who contracted the disease in Liberia while caring for women in labor, has received an experimental drug called TKM-Ebola, made by Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp. TKM hasn't been approved yet, and the Food and Drug Administration has put its trial on a partial clinical hold while investigating side effects. But the agency allowed Sacra to receive it for compassionate use. TKM-Ebola prevents the Ebola virus from reproducing, Thomas Geisbert said. While it's too early to know if TKM-Ebola will work on more patients, Geisbert said he's encouraged the Sacra was able to take the drug safely. That's no small feat, he said. Experimental drugs with unknown effects are usually tested in healthy people. Sacra was acutely ill when he received the drug.
Texas doctors seek to calm Ebola fears
WOAI-AM (1200, San Antonio), Sept. 18, 2014
The Centers for Disease Control has now written a six page “action plan” on how to tackle Ebola, warning U.S. hospitals, “now is the time to prepare.” The action comes after the CDC warned that the Ebola outbreak in west Africa is “out of control” and it is only a matter of time before the disease is “widespread” across the United States. But cooler heads are stepping in to prevail. UTMB’s Dr. Thomas Geisbert says this is “no time to panic. Certainly we have an outbreak that is the largest in history, so it just makes sense to take precautions, so if there would be an outbreak here, it could be appropriately contained and handled," he said. Geisbert says the CDC just wants to make sure that hospital precautions and planning are “up to date” and take Ebola into account.
2014 ASM Kadner Institute Helps Shape Career Growth of Budding Microbiologists
ASM Kadner Institute Press Release, Sept. 14, 2014
The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) congratulates 13 graduate students and 8 postdoctoral scientists who successfully completed the 2014 ASM Kadner Institute for Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Scientists in Preparation for Careers in Microbiology, which was held July 20-23 in San Jose, Calif. Two UTMB students, both from the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, were among the 13 graduate students who participated: Roberto Cieza and Christina van Lier.
During the institute, participants network, explore career options, and enhance their skills in grant writing, scientific presentations, communication, and ethics. The experience is intense and hands on; beforehand, each participant prepares a 10-page preliminary grant proposal, a 10- to 12-minute scientific presentation, and a curriculum vitae for evaluation by institute faculty and peers. Career sessions spotlight a range of opportunities in the microbiological sciences, including teaching, conducting applied research in industry, and serving in public health.
A virus hunter faces the big one: Ebola
Washington Post, Sept. 14, 2014
Joseph Fair hunts viruses. That’s his thing. The 37-year-old American loves chasing dangerous pathogens, studying them in secure labs or searching for them in jungles where the microbes lurk. In college at Loyola University New Orleans, he read “Virus Hunter,” about famed virologist C.J. Peters’s career chasing Ebola and other pathogens. Fair discovered a new calling. A few years later, he was working at Peters’s lab at UTMB. Peters recalls how Fair volunteered to work with hot viruses in the highest-security labs. “That indicated right away that he was going to do things,” Peters recalls. “It’s been gratifying to see him take up the cudgel.” Now, on the hotel deck, another famed Ebola hunter sits at a nearby table. Tom Ksiazek was recently tapped by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help in Sierra Leone. He and Fair work together at the Ebola emergency operations center. “A CDC legend,” Fair says with admiration after Ksiazek stops by to say hello.
Fact or fiction?: The Ebola virus will go airborne
Scientific American, Sept. 16, 2014
As the virus continues to circulate through west Africa, it may like any other pathogen continue to acquire genetic mutations. So far, however, there is no indication that Ebola is mutating in a way that could allow it to make the leap from becoming transmissible via contact with body fluids (as it is now) to become a germ that could be transmitted by breathing the same air, according to WHO. With Ebola, "I don't think we have the information at this time to know what the real risk is but it is probably not zero,” says Ebola expert Thomas Geisbert, a virologist at UTMB.
U.S. scientists see long fight against Ebola
The New York Times, Sept. 12, 2014
Questions have been raised about whether there could be something different about this strain of Ebola that makes it more contagious than previous ones. Researchers are doubtful, but Thomas W. Geisbert, an Ebola expert at UTMB, said it was important to keep an open mind about the possibility. During vaccine tests expected to start next month in monkeys, he said, he and his colleagues will monitor infected animals to see if they develop unusually high virus levels early in the disease that might amplify its infectiousness.
Ebola vaccines racing forward at record pace
Science, Sept. 9, 2014
Thomas Geisbert, a researcher at UTMB, who helped develop several VSV Ebola vaccines, including the one made by NewLink Genetics, contends “it’s a much stronger vaccine system.” The VSV replicates, unlike the chimpanzee adenovirus vector, stimulating an immune response that Geisbert argues is as good as the one achieved by the prime-boost approach NIAID has championed. “In the context of an outbreak, where you are going to put first responders on an airplane, you don’t have time for a prime-boost,” he says. “You need a single injection.”
American Ebola patient got transfusion from cured doctor
USA Today, Sept. 11, 2014
An American physician who contracted Ebola while working in a West African hospital has received a blood transfusion from another American missionary doctor who survived the disease, hospital officials confirmed Thursday. Asked about the ethics of giving someone a drug that has no track record in humans, Thomas Geisbert, an Ebola expert at UTMB, said the results of tests on animals were strong and the need great. It will be extremely difficult to figure out whether the drug Sacra received or the Zmapp used by earlier Ebola patients contributed to their recovery. For that, Geisbert said, much bigger trials will be needed. animals can begin widespread testing in people in the coming months.
UTMB Scientists Part of Effort to Combat Ebola
Houston Public Media, Sep. 9, 2014
Last March, Thomas Geisbert and his team at UTMB in Galveston won a $26 million research grant from the National Institutes of Health. They’re going to study three different treatments for Ebola. "We’re working on all counter-measures for Ebola, so this is both vaccines and treatments," Geisbert said.
Global Virus Network hosts upcoming press conference where UTMB expert answers questions on Ebola outbreak
UTMB Newsroom, Sep. 9, 2014
As the Ebola epidemic grows in Africa, scientists of the Global Virus Network are leading the world in their efforts to develop therapeutic drug therapy and effective vaccine candidates to treat and prevent the deadly disease from spreading. On Friday, Sept. 12, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the GVN, with support from UST Global as a technology partner, will host a WebEx conference including three GVN world-renowned Ebola experts and journalists from across the globe, including the University of Texas Medical Branch's Ebola expert, Thomas Geisbert. All journalists can register here and will receive login information.
Experimental Ebola vaccine protects monkeys for 10 months
Reuters, Sep. 7, 2014
An experimental Ebola vaccine similar to one being developed by GlaxoSmithKline is effective for at least five weeks in lab monkeys but requires boosting with an additional vaccine to extend its protection to 10 months, according to a study published on Sunday. Thomas Geisbert of UTMB works on the VSV-based Ebola vaccine being developed by Profectus. He questioned the practicality of a two-shot vaccine regimen. "You really need a fast-acting single injection vaccine" for protecting a community during an outbreak or preparing first responders and healthcare workers, he said. Only VSV vaccines have been shown to protect lab monkeys when given after infection with Ebola, Geisbert said: "This makes it so much more useful than any of the other vaccines. For outbreaks, it works fast." The article also appears on Fox News and the Huffington Post.
Blood of Ebola survivors seen as possible treatment
USA Today, Sep. 4, 2014
As West Africa struggles to contain the biggest ever outbreak of Ebola, some experts say an unusual but simple treatment might help: the blood of survivors. The evidence is mixed for using infection-fighting antibodies from survivors' blood for Ebola, but without any licensed drugs or vaccines for the deadly disease, some say it's worth a shot. While direct donation would be easier, the levels of Ebola-fighting antibodies produced by a survivor can vary. Ideally, experts said, the amount of antibodies should be measured. "With drugs, you can at least do some quality control," said Tom Geisbert, an Ebola expert at UTMB. "If you're just taking blood blindly from (survivors) without testing it for antibody levels, how can we predict what outcome they will have?"
Scientists battling Ebola virus in Galveston lab
KHOU-TV (Channel 11, Houston), Sep. 4, 2014
UTMB Galveston officials joked that it literally took an act of Congress — a visit from a United States senator — but for the first time authorities on Thursday allowed cameras inside Galveston's high-security biocontainment lab, where scientists research some of the most frightening diseases and biological agents in the world. Inside an otherwise non-descript building on the medical school's campus, researchers are studying potential treatments and vaccines for everything from anthrax to cholera to the Ebola virus. "We can all sleep a little easier knowing that we have dedicated scientists and hardworking Texans here trying to find new ways to protect our nation from deadly diseases and serious biological agents," said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Ebola drug saves infected monkeys
Nature, Aug. 29, 2014
ZMapp, the drug that has been used to treat seven patients during the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa, can completely protect monkeys against the virus, research has found. The study, published online today in Nature, comes the day after the World Health Organization warned that the Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 1,500 people, is worsening and could infect 20,000 people before it ends. A fifth West African nation, Senegal, reported its first case of the disease on Friday. UTMB's Thomas Geisbert estimates that day 5 of infection in the monkeys studied is roughly equivalent to days 7 to 9 of a human infection. People can develop symptoms up to 21 days after they contract Ebola, although signs commonly develop between 8 and 10 days after infection. The study authors say that ZMapp works in an "advanced" stage of the disease. The news also appears in the Los Angeles Times, NBC News, Bloomberg, Scientific American, Reuters and Infection Control Today, among hundreds of other outlets.
How Ebola Kills You: It's Not The Virus
NPR, Aug. 26, 2014
Ebola has a nasty reputation for the way it damages the body. It's rightfully earned. "At the end stage of the disease, you have small leaks in blood vessels," says UTMB's Thomas Geisbert. "You end up with essentially no blood pressure. Your body temperature drops and you go into shock." But when you look at the nitty-gritty details of an Ebola infection, a surprising fact surfaces: The virus isn't what ends up killing you. It's your own immune system.
What Ebola survivors reveal about the virus, ZMapp
ABC News, Aug. 28, 2014
"There’s something to be gained from understanding why certain people survive," said Thomas Geisbert, a virologist studying Ebola at UTMB. But studying survivors is a tall order in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria — countries simultaneously plagued by Ebola and a dearth of medical infrastructure. "The No. 1 priority for health care workers in this chaotic situation is stopping the outbreak, not a scientific study looking at survivors," Geisbert said. He added that the best way to stop the current outbreak is "good old-fashioned epidemiology and outbreak control," and the best way to prevent futures outbreaks is a vaccine. The first phase 1 safety study of an Ebola vaccine is set to start next week, the National Institutes of Health announced yesterday. "I really hope that the next time we're talking about this, those vaccines are across the finish line," Geisbert said.
UTMB researchers develop treatment effective against lethal Marburg virus
Science, Aug. 20, 2014
For the first time, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, in collaboration with Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, have protected nonhuman primates against Marburg virus — Angola hemorrhagic fever. Their treatment was shown to be effective at a point when animals have detectable levels of the virus in their system and begin to show symptoms of the disease. The study appears in the August 20 edition of the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Experimental drug used for Ebola-related virus shows promise
The New York Times, Aug. 20, 2014
An experimental drug has completely protected monkeys from lethal doses of a virus related to Ebola, bolstering confidence that a similar medicine might be effective if deployed in the current outbreak in Africa, researchers reported on Wednesday. The study demonstrates the “real-world utility of this technology,” said Thomas W. Geisbert, a professor of microbiology and immunology at UTMB and a senior author of the study, which is being published in Science Translational Medicine. He said more studies were being planned to determine whether the drug could be used even later. The news also appears in the Houston Chronicle, TIME Magazine, National Geographic, Bloomberg, U.S. News & World Report, Nature, International Business Times, Reuters, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today and Voice of America.
Geisbert: The day I discovered Ebola-Reston
Houston Chronicle, Aug. 19, 2014
In this guest blog for Gray Matters, UTMB's Thomas Geisbert recalls the day he discovered Ebola-Reston: "In 1989, I was 27 years old and was working as a research microbiologist at the United States Army Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, MD. I had been doing a lot of electron microscopy, viewing viruses at a very high magnification to study their structure and their biology. We decided to look at the cell cultures from the Reston facility samples with the electron microscope. To my great surprise, when I looked at the samples I did not see small spherical virus particles consistent with simian hemorrhagic fever. Instead I saw long filamentous virus particles that were spaghetti-shaped and cells with virus inclusions that looked like either Ebola virus or Marburg virus. I took pictures of this virus and took them to my mentor, Dr. Peter Jahrling. He thought I was joking. When I convinced him that I was not joking, he called in Dr. C.J. Peters, who was his boss. I am not sure whether he was joking or not, but Dr. Peters threatened to fire me if this was some sort of joke. Later that day we confirmed that the virus responsible for the outbreak was Ebola."
Galveston lab works to stop Ebola virus in its tracks
Dallas Morning News, Aug. 17, 2014
In a laboratory on Galveston Island, Tom Geisbert is working overtime. The pressure is on as the biggest Ebola epidemic in history creeps across West Africa, jumping over borders and permeating cells. The virus has killed more than 1,000 people. For Geisbert, three decades of scientific grunt work Including hours of pipetting and disinfecting and note-taking and grant-writing are thrust into the limelight. The public demands a cure.
WHO ponders treating Ebola-infected people with blood of survivors
Science, Aug. 15, 2014
In a study in rhesus macaques, published in 2007, researchers found no benefit from transferring blood of convalescent monkeys. “There are many variables and the quality of the immune blood or serum may vary widely from person to person,” says Thomas Geisbert, a researcher at UTMB and one of the authors of that study.
Ebola emergency turns spotlight on experimental drugs
Voice of America, Aug. 7, 2014
Several experimental drugs have shown promise in treating Ebola. All of them seem to be effective only in a small window after exposure, however. "Nothing on planet Earth is going to work if somebody comes in with full-blown Ebola hemorrhagic fever and they are 24 hours or 72 hours from death," said UTMBs Thomas Geisbert. "The damage has been done."
25 years ago, a different Ebola outbreak in USA
USA Today, Aug. 10, 2014
Americans introduction to the Ebola virus came 25 years ago in an office park near Washington Dulles International Airport, a covert crisis that captivated the public only years later when it formed the basis of a bestselling book. Initially thought to be the same hyper-deadly strain as the current Ebola outbreak that has killed hundreds in Africa, the previously unknown Reston variant turned out to be nonlethal to humans. But the story of what might have been illustrates how far U.S. scientists have come in their understanding of a virus whose very name strikes fear, even in a country where no one has fatally contracted it. "You could walk in and smell monkey everywhere," said Dr. C.J. Peters, who oversaw the Army's response to the outbreak. "There was a little shopping center nearby. There was plenty of opportunity for trouble." Back in 1989, there was concern that Ebola could spread through the air, said Peters, now a professor with UTMB. The Associated Press story also appears on ABC News, Fox News and in the Houston Chronicle.
Experimental Ebola drug raises interest, questions
The Washington Post, Aug. 6, 2014
Groups of researchers funded and aided by a variety of U.S. government agencies have been working on treatments and vaccines for Ebola for nearly 30 years. The Canadian government also has funded an array of research into Ebola. “This isn’t something that happened overnight,” said Tom Geisbert, a professor of microbiology and immunology at UTMB who has spent almost 25 years on the effort. “All of these started at least a decade ago.”
U.S. FDA says ‘stands ready’ to work with companies developing Ebola drugs
Yahoo! News, Aug. 3, 2014
UTMB’s Thomas Geisbert has done animal studies on the Tekmira drug and said there are few companies willing to develop Ebola treatments. There is “little financial incentive,” given the small market potential for a drug that treats a rare disease afflicting developing countries, he said. Geisbert said the drug “works great in monkeys in the lab,” but that is largely because it is given relatively early in the course of infection. “What if you start giving it to people who are almost dead and they die, but it's not the drug's fault? Then you blame the drug.” Geisbert said given the widespread mistrust of doctors in West Africa, which has driven dozens of victims to evade treatment, such an event could jeopardize the drug's prospects. “It’s a very delicate situation,” he said. The Reuters article also appears on Fox News and the Scientific American.
CNN International, Aug. 1, 2014
UTMB’s Tom Geisbert provides his perspective on the Ebola outbreak in Africa.
Deadly Ebola virus on the move in Africa
The Washington Post, Aug. 1, 2014
The Ebola outbreak that emerged in March in West Africa has killed more than half the 1,300-plus people who have been infected, making it the deadliest outbreak ever. For now, only symptoms can be treated in hopes of keeping people strong enough that their immune systems can catch up. But in the past five years, several experimental vaccines and treatments have been effective in other primates, said virologist Alexander Bukreyev of UTMB, and he estimates that something could be approved for human use within five years.
NIH: Ebola vaccine to be tested in human trials soon
CNN, Aug. 1, 2014
The National Institutes of Health will begin testing an experimental Ebola vaccine in people as early as September. In March, a group at UTMB, led by Thomas Geisbert, a professor of microbiology and immunology, was awarded a five year, $26 million grant to work with three promising Ebola therapies. Geisbert is best known as the man who discovered an airborne strain of Ebola that infects only monkeys. The grant covers three treatments that are thought to be the most promising i.e., they have shown substantial ability to protect animals against Ebola in a laboratory setting, Geisbert said.
Inside look at experimental Ebola drug developed at UTMB-Galveston
KPRC-TV (Ch. 2, Houston), Aug. 5, 2014
The second American with Ebola virus is in Atlanta to be treated as health officials work to figure out just how she and a Texas doctor were infected. On Tuesday afternoon the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's still working to complete its investigation. Closer to home, UTMB researchers are continuing to work on a potential medical breakthrough. An expert says he is encouraged by what he is seeing with the two American Ebola patients, but it is too soon to tell if they'll fully recover.
Why Big Pharma probably won't cure Ebola
Huffington Post, Aug. 5, 2014
The Ebola virus may be getting closer to Americans than ever, but don't expect big American drug companies to come to the rescue. It's unclear how much profit it would take to get Big Pharma interested in finding an Ebola cure, but right now such a project could well be a money-loser, they said. “You’re just talking a small number of cases,” said Thomas Geisbert, a professor at UTMB whose lab is researching possible treatments for Ebola. Geisbert noted that the number of Ebola patients right now pales in comparison to the number of people suffering from diseases like malaria and cancer. “Who are they going to sell it to?” he said of an Ebola treatment.
Cambridge firm’s Ebola drug carries hope, risk
The Boston Globe, Aug. 6, 2014
Thomas W. Geisbert, professor of microbiology and immunology at UTMB, says that one of Ebola’s challenges is its swiftness: Infections move so quickly that the window for intervening is very brief. The virus immediately attacks critical immune cells, shutting down the body’s first line of defense. Then it replicates freely, and by the time symptoms appear, the person’s body is overwhelmed.
Texas expert: Don't fear an Ebola epidemic
WOAI-AM (1200, Houston), Aug. 6, 2014
A Texas doctor who is considered one of the world's leaders in Ebola research, says we need to chill out over fears of an Ebola 'epidemic' in the United States after two Americans who contracted the disease in West Africa were brought here for treatment. UTMB’s Tom Giesbert has spent decades studying Ebola and working on a vaccine. He says Ebola is not spread casually, like the flu, and Emory University Hospital in Atlanta is taking the most complete precautions he has ever seen. “State of the art protective gear, special isolators under negative pressure,” he said. “There is no such thing as zero chance of any trouble, but the odds are remote squared.”
Americans with Ebola to return to U.S.; vaccine tests fast-tracked
Dallas Morning News, Aug. 1, 2014
Last Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the organization would work with the Food and Drug Administration to fast-track an Ebola vaccine. Trials in humans could begin as early as September. UTMB’s Tom Geisbert is working on a vaccine that was given to monkeys after they were exposed to Ebola. The vaccine “completely [protected] them all the time with a single shot,” he said. Vaccines are usually given before a person is at risk of infection, but some vaccines, like the rabies vaccine and this one, are given after exposure. A second potential treatment involves a small molecule that binds to Ebola’s genes and stops them from making more copies of the virus. It was found to be safe in humans, but since the test subjects didn’t have Ebola, more tests are needed.
In Galveston, experts look for Ebola cure
Houston Chronicle, Aug. 1, 2014
As the worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history sweeps across West Africa, hope for a cure is centering on scientists thousands of miles away at the Galveston National Laboratory, where researchers are working on three of the most promising potential cures. The National Lab, on the campus of UTMB, has been awarded $6 million from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense to develop cures for Ebola and the equally deadly Marburg virus, UTMB said this week. The Ebola virus that has infected more than 1,000 people in West Africa and killed more than 700 is a new strain, which could complicate efforts to develop a cure, said Scott Weaver, the National Lab's scientific director. The article also appears in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Experimental Ebola serum likely treating sick Americans
Discovery News, Aug. 2, 2014
An American doctor working in West Africa and another health care worker, also American, who contracted Ebola there have both received experimental treatments for the deadly viral disease, according to news reports. In an Ebola infection, the virus first disables some of the immune system's frontline cells and then replicates almost unchecked. It then bursts out of cells throughout the body and damages them, eventually causing multi-organ failure. Both experimental treatments, if they work, would need to lower the viral load by binding to the virus and preventing it from replicating, which would give the immune system enough time to regenerate its cells and fight the disease, UTMB’s Tom Geisbert said.
UTMB scientist is headed into the Ebola hot zone
Galveston Daily News, Aug. 5, 2014
At a time when most are fleeing the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, one of Galveston’s own is flying in. Thomas Ksiazek, director of high containment laboratory operations for the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch, will leave for Sierra Leone on Aug. 11 to lead U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Ebola outbreak control operations, assisting the government of Sierra Leone.
Texas lab targets Ebola virus with work on vaccine
USA Today, July 30, 2014
The Ebola virus is one of the deadliest on the planet and the current outbreak is the worst the world has seen since the virus surfaced in the late 1970s. So what is UTMB Professor Thomas Geisbert doing with the virus in his Galveston lab? "We're really trying to improve the vaccines, improve the treatments and really kind of support the efforts in that manner," said Geisbert of the school's Department of Microbiology and Immunology. His efforts to create an effective vaccine are funded by a $26 million NIH grant. "We are the only academic university in the country right now that works with Biosafety Level 4 pathogens," Geisbert said. Security at the hospital is off the charts. "It's kinda like a box within a box within a box," he said. Even though Ebola is deadly, it's also fragile. Disinfectants, soaps and detergents kill it. Presently in a UTMB lab, a Texas doctor and his team are hoping to eliminate it from the Earth.
When will we have a vaccine for Ebola virus?
Scientific American, July 29, 2014
A vaccine to help battle future Ebola outbreaks may be just a few years away. During the past decade researchers have made significant progress, and vaccines have worked in nonhuman primates. But it has been hard to raise money for human safety tests. To learn about the latest advances as well as obstacles, Scientific American spoke to UTMB’s Thomas Geisbert. He’s studied the Ebola virus since 1988 and is currently involved in vaccine research and development.
In treating Ebola, doctors have only containment, not yet a cure
All Things Considered (NPR), July 29, 2014
What treatments can be offered to those who are sick currently? UTMB’s Tom Geisbert says, “Right now the main care is just general supportive care, so replacement of fluids, things like that. There are experimental drugs that potentially could be available. That's one of the things that we work on here at UTMB. We just received a very large grant from NIH to take what we think are the three most promising treatments against Ebola and advance those for further development. And also, kind of like what you've seen with HIV where different antiviral drugs are combined for a synergistic effect, we're actually looking at combining some of these promising treatments to see if we can get an added benefit. So it's possible that some of these treatments could be used for compassionate use. I think that's a very challenging situation to try to do that in an outbreak in West Africa.”
'No market': Scientists struggle to make Ebola vaccines, treatments
NBC News, July 30, 2014
No specific drug has been shown to help people infected with Ebola, so patients are given saline to replace fluids lost to vomiting and diarrhea; painkillers to reduce fever and to help fight the general misery the virus causes; and antibiotics to prevent what doctors call secondary infections. "There are at least four vaccines that can protect against Ebola (in monkeys)," says Thomas Geisbert, whose lab at UTMB is working on some of them. "But how do you take this to the next level?"
Texas bug brings deadly, at times incurable disease
Corpus Christi Caller-Times, July 31, 2014
Between May and September marks the season for a bug to come out in Texas, and it carries a disease-causing parasite that can become incurable. Between 16 million and 18 million people carry Chagas in Central and South America, and 50,000 of those infected will die each year. Nisha Jain Garg, a microbiology, immunology and pathology professor with UTMB, said treatment is generally only effective thus far in the early stages of infection, or shortly after bitten. Scientists are still in a discovery phase with regard to Chagas, Garg said. “I think we have more knowledge about the prevalence of Chagas in Texas,” Garg said. “There are more studies done now.”
As Ebola outbreak rages, medical community searches for answers
CBS News, July 28, 2014
The current Ebola outbreak scaring medical professionals the world over and spreading at never-before-seen rates began as far back as January and has been blamed on the consumption of bat soup. “This is very different than any other outbreak historically," said Dr. Tom Geisbert, a professor of microbiology and immunology at UTMB, in an interview with CBS News. "(This outbreak) is very difficult to contain because it keeps popping up in different places. The other thing that concerns us is the number of health care workers that are being infected ... doctors or nurses. This is just crazy with the number of medical personnel getting infected." As one of the top experts on Ebola, Geisbert is quoted in several stories worldwide, including on MSN.com, Health.com, Philly.com, U.S. News & World Report and KTRK-TV (Houston).
Humans lungs grown in lab
The Doctors (CBS TV), July 17, 2014
UTMB’s Joan Nichols talks about the latest breakthrough in regenerative medicine: the growth of human lungs in a lab.
Chikungunya virus confirmed in Dallas traveller who visited the Caribbean
BioNews Texas, July 23, 2014
The first case of chikungunya virus in Dallas County was confirmed on Tuesday by the Dallas County Health and Human Services. The Global Virus Network created a GVN Chikungunya Task Force in April, pooling the expertise of top virologists from around the world. It is composed of 16 virologists representing nine countries and led by UTMB’s Scott Weaver. All of the participating members are affiliated with GVN Centers of Excellence and the group is working on creating faster ways of identifying infections, improving treatment options and developing an effective vaccine. UTMB has been monitoring the spread of chikungunya virus for some time alerted that the “viral emergence” involves a wide variety of factors, including environmental changes, either generated by natural causes or human activity, but also accidental changes or mutations in the virus’s genetic code.
It's here: First local chikungunya cases in Florida
NBC News, July 17, 2014
Chikungunya has been reported in a Florida man and woman who had not recently traveled, health officials said Thursday. This is the first indication that the painful virus has taken up residence in the United States. The strain of chikungunya circulating in the Caribbean is the Asian strain, and it has only adapted to be carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, says Scott Weaver, who has been studying the virus for years. And so far, that mosquito can only be found in the far southern United States.
Bukreyev awarded roles on multiple 5-year grants
UTMB Provost's Letter, July 23, 2014
I [Dr. Danny Jacobs, Executive Vice President, Provost and Dean of the School of Medicine, UTMB Health] am pleased to announce that Alexander Bukreyev, PhD, Professor in the Departments of Pathology and Microbiology & Immunology, has been awarded roles on multiple five-year grants funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Defense Treaty Reduction Agency (DTRA) and totaling more than $6.58 million. Through these projects, Dr. Bukreyev will work to develop antibodies and small molecules to treat Ebola and Marburg infections, investigate their pathogenetic mechanisms and study the innate immunity that allows bats to harbor these viruses.
The grants are administered through the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (Dr. Chris Basler). In one grant, Dr. Bukreyev will work on testing and developing drugs to treat these viruses as principal investigator of Project 3, “Therapeutics Targeting Filoviral Interferon-antagonist and Replication Functions: Small Molecules Disabling Dephosphorylation of Ebola and Marburg" ($1,081,253) and principal investigator of Core B “Therapeutics Targeting Filoviral Interferon-antagonist and Replication Function” ($2,469,571). In another grant, Dr. Bukreyev will investigate immune responses caused by the Ebola and Marburg viruses as principal investigator of Project 2, "Mechanisms of ‘Immune Paralysis’ Caused by Filoviruses,” for $1,707,254.
Dr. Bukreyev also will receive $1,320,028 as co-investigator and principal investigator of the UTMB subcontract “Comparative Immunology of Rousettus Aegyptiacus Reservoir of Filovirus” funded by the DTRA.
Before joining UTMB in 2010, Dr. Bukreyev worked as a Research Fellow and Staff Scientist at the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, NIAID, garnering honors including the Performance Award in Recognition of Special Achievement in Support of the Mission of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases several years in a row. This year, he served on both the Organizing Committee of the 6th International Symposium on Filoviruses and on the NIH Vaccines Against Microbial Diseases (VMD) Study Section. He is a member of UTMB’s Galveston National Laboratory, the UTMB Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases and the UTMB Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, as well as a Senior Scientist for UTMB’s Sealy Center for Vaccine Development.
Dogs carry kissing bug disease in Texas and Latin America
NPR, July 16, 2014
Canines across the state of Texas are becoming infected with a parasite that causes a potentially deadly disease in people, scientists reported Wednesday in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. Although the dogs aren't spreading the parasite directly to people, they are helping to make the disease more prevalent in the southern United States. (Not to mention the parasite can make dogs sick and even kill them.) The disease is called Chagas. And it's transmitted by an insect known as the kissing bug. But in the past decade, researchers have found evidence that Chagas' disease is spreading locally in Texas and around New Orleans. The new study in dogs points up how widespread the problem is, says UTMB microbiologist Nisha Jain Garg. "It shows that active transmission is going on in the U.S.," says Garg, who wasn't involved with this research. "Having infections in dogs in the U.S. serves a role in maintaining the infection cycle of Chagas' disease."
UTMB part of research team seeking answers to deadly Nipah virus
BioNews Texas, July 11, 2014
Continuing coverage: The UTMB, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and three other groups within the National Institutes of Health have formed an interdisciplinary research team that now reports a new breakthrough to counteract the deadly Nipah virus. “What makes this study unique is that we have achieved complete protection against death even in animals that received treatment five days after being infected with the Nipah virus when they otherwise would have succumbed within 8-10 days of infection,” according to Thomas Geisbert, UTMB professor and lead author of the paper. “This recent success of the antibody therapy against Nipah virus disease in a nonhuman primate is a key step towards its development as a therapeutic for use in people.”
Bugs at your July 4th BBQ? Beware of Chikungunya and West Nile
NBC News, July 3, 2014
There is a little bit of good news for backyard barbecuers this summer; that frightening new virus called chikungunya is not likely to get you. But West Nile virus just might. Chikungunya has been making headlines because it has spread rapidly across the Caribbean and Central America in just half a year, infecting 260,000 people and killing 21. But a recent study suggests the United States has a bit of time on its side. The strain of Chikungunya circulating in the Caribbean is the Asian strain, and it is only adapted to be carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, says Scott Weaver of UTMB, who has been studying the virus for years. And so far, that mosquito can only be found in the far southern U.S.
Researchers develop experimental treatment for deadly Nipah virus
Voice of America, June 27, 2014
Researchers are a step closer to developing a treatment for the deadly Nipah virus, a disease transmitted by fruit bats that has a high mortality rate. The disease is most common in Asia and South Asia. Now, a team of U.S. university and government researchers has discovered an antibody in uninfected individuals that fights the virus. They report their findings last week in Science Translational Medicine. Lead researcher Thomas Geisbert of UTMB says the human monoclonal antibody cured the test animals even as many as five days after the infection had set in. Otherwise, they would have died within eight to 10 days. “We give them the antibody and they are completely protected against Nipah. So, that's really a unique aspect and really exciting for us,” said Geisbert. If developed as a therapy for people, that would give public health officials enough time to identify an outbreak and begin treatment. The news continues to receive widespread coverage, also appearing in RedOrbit and ScienceDaily.
Could Ebola spread to the United States?
FOX News, June 30, 2014
The current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa is now the largest in history, but how likely is it to spread to the United States or other countries around the world? “It’s the same species of Ebola that has caused some of the larger and more prominent outbreaks in central Africa,” said Thomas Geisbert, a virologist at UTMB. This species is called Zaire Ebola virus. “It’s a slightly different strain, but I haven’t seen any data suggesting that it’s more transmissible,” Geisbert said. Still, only a small dose of the virus is required to cause infection, Geisbert said. The news also appears in Yahoo! News and LiveScience.
Tracing a virus’s past to predict its future
The Scientist, June 26, 2014
Scott Weaver and his colleagues at UTMB took advantage of chikungunya epidemiological data. In a paper published in Nature Communications this month (June 16), the team compared consensus sequence information from 91 clinical isolates of A226V Chikungunya viruses to identify four sublineages with common genetic signatures. Each such signature included two to four characteristic mutations scattered throughout several viral proteins. The work shows that “the virus isn’t finished yet: it’s got additional opportunities to further adapt and become more efficiently transmitted by albopictus,” said Weaver. The news also appears in The Hindu.
Antibody that protects against Hendra virus proves effective against deadly Nipah virus
Infection Control Today, June 26, 2014
The human monoclonal antibody known as m102.4, which has proven effective in protecting against the frequently fatal Hendra virus, has now been shown in studies to protect against the closely related Nipah virus, which was the basis of the 2011 movie Contagion a highly infectious and deadly agent that results in acute respiratory distress syndrome and encephalitis, person-to-person transmission, and greater than 90 percent case fatality rates among humans. In experiments carried out at UTMB where there is a high-containment facility for working with live Nipah virus, the team of researchers, under the direction of Thomas W. Geisbert, demonstrated that administering a human monoclonal antibody therapy after exposure to Nipah virus protected the animals from disease. “There are currently no licensed and approved vaccines or therapeutics for prevention and treatment of disease caused by these viruses for humans or livestock,” says Geisbert. “This human monoclonal antibody is the first effective antiviral drug against Nipah virus and Hendra virus that has a real potential for human therapeutic applications.” The news also appears in the Global Post, Yahoo! Brazil, Medical Xpress, Science Codex, the Shanghai Daily and Medical News Today.
When an Ebola outbreak lasts for months and continues to show up in new cities, health officials take notice. That's exactly what's happening in West Africa. An outbreak that started in Guinea last February has surged in the past few weeks. It is now the deadliest outbreak since the virus was first detected in 1976. Ebola often kills around two-thirds of the people it infects. And it kills quickly, sometimes within days, sometimes within weeks. That actually makes outbreaks relatively easy to stop, says UTMB’s Thomas Geisbert. “Typically an outbreak starts in Central Africa,” Geisbert says. “The WHO goes in and quarantines the area and within a few months, they've contained the outbreak.” But the pattern is different in West Africa, Geisbert says. The virus continues to pop up in new locations
Tom Geisbert has been studying Ebola for 30 years. He says outbreaks typically strike in Central rather than West Africa and generally, they're contained quite quickly. “I think this is highly unusual, in that it's popping up in very different locations in West Africa. I don't think we've quite seen anything like this before.”
The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) awarded 33 degrees during its 46th commencement ceremony in Levin Hall. GSBS Vice President and Dean David W. Niesel, PhD, presided over the convocation.
The Distinguished Faculty Service Award went to Clifford W. Houston, PhD, professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, Associate Vice President for Educational Outreach and Diversity and The Herman Barnett Distinguished Endowed Professorship in Microbiology & Immunology. Dr. Houston was honored for his dedication to STEM education, particularly for minority students, and innovative hands-on research programs encouraging science undergrads to continue on to graduate school. His work positively impacts the GSBS year after year, propelling these vital topics to the forefront of the national dialogue about education.
Scott C. Weaver, PhD, Professor in the Departments of Pathology and Microbiology & Immunology, Director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, and Scientific Director of the Galveston National Laboratory was the recipient of The Distinguished Faculty Research Award. Dr. Weavers success brings international acclaim to UTMBs virology and vector biology research program. His seminal studies of arborviral diseases, such as Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE), dengue and chikungunya (CHIK) viruses, has resulted in promising new vaccines, including a timely CHIK vaccine, which has been patented in the U.S. and 18 other countries.
As mosquito-borne illnesses go, they call Dengue fever bonebreak fever, but researcher Scott Weaver notes, “Chikungunya is more painful and debilitating.” The virus circulates for mere days in the body, but the pain it can cause can go on for weeks, months, sometimes years. Florida is now home to 10 people infected with the mosquito-borne illness chikungunya, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, every one of them was bitten during visits out of the country. But health officials are certain that luck won’t last. “Each time a person pops off an airplane from the Caribbean, the risk of local transmission grows. It takes just one mosquito bite to get the cycle going,” said Weaver, who just returned from a reconnaissance of sorts on mosquitoes for UTMB.
Ebola virus is a pretty scary disease for humans, but it is equally scary for great apes. Since 1994, massive outbreaks in Africa have hit chimpanzees and killed an estimated third of the world’s gorillas. For the endangered chimps and critically endangered gorillas, the problem now rivals poaching and habitat loss. To inoculate a wild chimp or gorilla you’d need to deliver the vaccine via dart three times, and that’s where things get complicated. “Any vaccine that would require three immunizations; that’s going to be a logistical nightmare,” says Tom Geisbert, a vaccine expert at UTMB. Deep in the forests of central Africa darting the same animal three times seems like a long shot. It’s also unclear how long that immunity would last, too, though Geisbert suspects no more than a year. In contrast, the riskier live vaccine typically only requires one dose to protect the individual for a decade in some cases and would confer longer immunity. And if the one dose; whether of live or VLP vaccine; could be taken orally, that would be even better.
Scott Weaver, a world expert on the chikungunya virus and the director of UTMB’s Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, recently spent four days in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, to see how the virus was spreading and evaluate the mosquito population. He also wanted to see whether it was being spread by both species of mosquitoes; the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus; that are present on the island as well as in the southern and eastern United States. Weaver said he believes the culprit is the dreaded Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also transmits dengue and yellow fever, that is behind the spread. Weaver said it’s very likely that the disease will soon reach the southern United States as dengue has. “People flying in and out of places like the Dominican Republic and landing and getting bitten by mosquitoes will start the cycle off,” he said. “It’s a disease you don’t want to get. It is very painful, debilitating. The pain and swelling in joints can last for years. It’s a bad disease. It makes you very sick.”
Very few candidate therapeutics against Ebola have proven effective in non-human primates, the gold-standard animal model for research against such viruses. But there is, amidst the ongoing outbreak, mobilization of funding toward anti-Ebola agents that have proven their mettle in such models: last month the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced that it was putting a combined total of more than $50 million towards a handful of the most promising approaches. About half of that money will support a five-year collaborative research effort spanning 20 labs in seven countries to develop a cocktail of antibodies that neutralize the virus. The other half of the new funding the NIH announced last month is going toward a multi-center collaboration led by Ebola researcher Thomas Geisbert at UTMB. The partnership aims to advance several different types of therapeutics for Ebola virus and the related Marburg virus, which also causes hemorrhagic fevers in humans. One of the group''s candidate therapeutics is a vaccine containing a form of the vesicular stomatitis virus engineered to contain a gene from the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus (they''ve also devised similar vaccines for Marburg virus as well as a different strain of Ebola virus). Geisbert''s lab has shown that a single shot of the vaccine saves rhesus macaques from a lethal dose of Ebola virus.
Frederick A. Murphy and Thomas G. Ksiazek, both professors at UTMB, have been recognized by global experts who study the deadliest infectious diseases with a Lifetime Achievement Award, at the 6th annual International Symposium on Filoviruses. The filoviruses include Ebola and Marburg viruses, both of which cause death in 50 to 90 percent of people infected. The current outbreak of Ebola virus raging in West Africa has led to more than 100 deaths so far this year. James LeDuc, director of the Galveston National Laboratory at UTMB, the only fully operational Biosafety Level 4 laboratory on an academic campus in the United States, noted that the award represents the “culmination of a lifetime of scientific discovery and leadership in addressing one of the most challenging emerging diseases of our time.”
West Nile Research
Scientists working in UTMB’s Sealy Center for Vaccine Development have received a two-year, $500,000 grant from the Robert J. Kleberg Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation to expand research on the development of a vaccine for West Nile virus; David Beasley and Jai Rudra are working on a nanofiber-based vaccine candidate for West Nile virus and will study other vaccine applications for this technology.
Dr. Garg receives the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine
It is with great pleasure that I share that Drs. Nisha Garg and Taylor Riall have both been accepted into the 2014-2015 class of fellows in the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) Program. ELAM participants undergo a year-long in-depth mentoring program focused on leadership. They will each work on an action project that will address a need or priority for our Institution.
Dr. Nisha Garg joined UTMB in 2000 and currently serves as Professor in the Departments of Microbiology and Immunology and Pathology, Director of Global Health Policy, Epidemics, International Organization in the Coordinating Center for Global Health, and Associate Director of the Center for Tropical Diseases at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston. A world renowned expert in parasitology, Dr. Garg has made substantial contributions as an investigator, teacher and mentor. She has conducted pioneering research on developing strategies to protect against neglected infectious diseases that afflict millions of people. In addition to her scientific achievements, Dr. Garg has an outstanding track record as a mentor, and works on initiatives to promote the careers of women in science. Dr. Garg's research program has been consistently funded by extramural sources. She has two NIH R01 research grants and is a collaborator on a number of NIH small grants. She has authored or co-authored 60 papers in peer-reviewed refereed journals, including the Journal of Immunology, Infection and Immunity, American Journal of Pathology, American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and International Journal of Cardiology.
The death toll from the outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa has passed 100. Health officials are working to contain the outbreak, which is reported spreading beyond Guinea to Mali, Ghana and Liberia. It has killed more than 60 percent of those infected. UTMB's Thomas Geisbert joined Gregory Haertl from the World Health Organization to provide his thoughts and expertise on the situation.
As BioNews Texas previously reported, Ebola continues to strongly affect people in Guinea, West Africa, and virologists are concerned about the consequences of the recent and unprecedented epidemic, as well as effectively containing it. Ebola has already claimed more than 90 lives, and may have also reached north into the Sahel region. 127 total cases have been reported. In response to the growing epidemic, Thomas Geisbert, an expert on aemorrhagic fevers at UTMB recently weighed in on the dangers of the virus, and how it might be stopped by public health officials.
Causing victims to suffer severe fever and pain, chikungunya virus has reached the Caribbean and South America and is predicted to soon cause outbreaks in the United States. For many years the virus has remained primarily in Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. In response to the arrival of the virus in the Western Hemisphere, the Global Virus Network announced yesterday the formation of the GVN Chikungunya Task Force, comprised of top virologists from around the world. The GVN Chikungunya Task Force is composed of 16 virologists representing nine countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Sweden, Grenada, Estonia, South Africa and Thailand. It is being led by UTMB's Scott Weaver.
Multi-pathogen Antiviral Medical Countermeasure Deploying FDA Approved Drug Against Orthopoxvirus
UTMB is participating in a multi-institutional project as a subcontractor to Inhibikase Therpaeutics, Inc. to evaluate kinase inhibitors for their ability to mitigate certain viral infections. The subcontract, worth just over $1 million during year one, is titled “Multi-pathogen Antiviral Medical Countermeasure Deploying FDA Approved Drug Against Orthopoxvirus." As part of the subcontract, UTMB will perform testing of kinase inhibitors in multiple experimental models. The goal is to obtain data about efficacy of some of the FDA approved drugs against Ebola and Marburg virus. Upon successful completion of the first year, an option year may be exercised with additional funding.
Principal Investigator for the UTMB subcontract, Slobodan Paessler, D.V.M., PhD, Professor in our Pathology Department, stated “complex projects like this one require team effort across the Departments of Pathology and Microbiology and Immunology as well as assistance from Regulatory Scientists and high containment specialists from the Galveston National Laboratory. None of this work could be accomplished without an active collaboration with many other UTMB investigators and I am very proud to have an excellent team behind me on this project. Drs. Nadezhda Yun, Barry Rockx, Chad Mire, Tom Geisbert and Trevor Brasel are highly experienced scientist that are actively supporting this contract and these scientists are absolutely essential to our success.”
Locally Transmitted Chikungunya Fever Expected to arrive in U.S. soon — Texas Likely Breakthrough Locale
BioNews Texas, March 27, 2014
U.S. medical authorities are girding up for the arrival of the nation's first recorded locally acquired cases of Chikungunya fever. UTMB Professor Dr. Scott Weaver believes that the United States will soon record its first locally acquired cases of Chikungunya fever, an emerging tropical disease caused by a virus spread by mosquitoes.
Scant Funds, Rare Outbreaks Leave Ebola Drug Pipeline Slim
Reuters, March 27, 2014
Thomas Geisbert at UTMB is working on a vaccine known as vesicular stomatitis virus-based Ebola vaccine, or VSV, which he said had shown 100 percent efficacy in tests on animals. The shot, which has not gone through clinical trials in humans, could, he said, be issued on "compassionate grounds" to people in Guinea at risk in the current Ebola outbreak. "You have to reach a balance between advancing science, medical ethics and saving lives," he told Reuters. "It's not easy, but how many people faced with the prospect of near certain death would opt to take their chances with the virus?" The news appears widely throughout the nation, in Yahoo! News and LifeScript and other outlets.
Canadian Man Tests Negative for Ebola
ABC News, March 25, 2014
A Canadian man who returned from Liberia with what health experts feared was the Ebola virus tested negative for it yesterday, according to the World Health Organization. This isn’t the first Ebola scare in North America, said Dr. Thomas Geisbert, a microbiologist studying Ebola and other diseases at UTMB’s BSL-4 lab in Galveston. In 1989 and 1990, monkeys infected with a strain of Ebola virus were shipped to a facility in Virginia. Although people there developed antibodies for the virus, they did not get sick, according to the CDC. The scare inspired the bestselling novel, The Hot Zone. “It’s obviously a relief if it’s not Ebola or Marburg,” Geisbert said, adding that fatality rates depending on the strain can be up to 90 percent. “They’re trying to make sure it’s not something new that we haven’t identified before.”
The answer to one of the world's worst food-borne illnesses may be coming right out of Southeast Texas. Researchers at UTMB have developed a possible vaccine for the E. coli virus, which is a cause of sickness and even death in humans around the world. “Every year, we have an average of 5 to 6 different outbreaks in the United States associated with this bacteria,” says Dr. Alfredo Torres, who is leading the research for UTMB. While the findings are encouraging, Torres cautions that many of these "vaccine candidates" are new and have never been investigated before, so a lot more testing is required. "Perhaps in 3 to 5 years we can actually have some of these candidates being tested in phase one trials," he says. "That's the goal we're trying to reach."
Could RNA drugs defeat Ebola virus?
Scientific American, April 2014
At first, people infected with the Ebola virus appear to have the flu: fever, chills, muscle aches. Then the bleeding begins. As the virus hijacks cells throughout the body to make copies of itself, it overwhelms and damages the liver, lungs, spleen and blood vessels. Within days organs begin to fail and many patients fall into a coma. Some outbreaks, primarily in Central and West Africa, have killed up to 90 percent of infected individuals. That terrifying prognosis may be about to change. Using so-called small interfering RNA, or siRNA, UTMB's Thomas W. Geisbert and his many collaborators have devised a highly promising treatment that has saved the lives of six monkeys infected with the virus.
Dr. David Niesel Named Vice President and Dean of the GSBS
After a national search, David W. Niesel, PhD, has been appointed Vice President and Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. He holds the J.P. Saunders Professorship in Graduate Biomedical Sciences and the Etheridge Professorship in the GSBS. Dr. Niesel has been interim VP and Dean in the GSBS since September, 2013. He has a faculty appointment in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and holds additional appointments in the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, Sealy Center for Structural Biology, Sealy Center for Vaccine Development, Center of Tropical Diseases, Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, and the Institute for Medical Humanities.
Dr. Niesel received his PhD degree from North Carolina State University in 1980 and completed postdoctoral research fellowships at the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, NC and in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Texas in Austin. He joined the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in 1983. He became interim Chair in 2000 and was appointed permanent Chair in 2004. During his time as Chair, the research profile of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology rose to a top 10 ranking in NIH funding among Microbiology and Immunology Departments nationally. In 2013, the department was ranked #5 in NIH funding.
For more than twenty years, Dr. Niesel has been engaged in graduate education. He became the Assistant Dean for Recruitment and Alumni in the GSBS in 1992. He is a co-founder of UTMB’s summer undergraduate research program which is in its 22nd year. In 1997, Dr. Niesel was named Vice Dean of the graduate school. He has been committed to increasing the diversity of the biomedical workforce and is the PI of two NIH sponsored training programs for minorities and the disadvantaged - “Bridges to the Doctorate” and the post baccalaureate “PREP” program.
Dr. Niesel actively participates in peer review for national and international agencies. His research has been nationally funded and is focused on investigating Streptococcus pneumoniae gene and protein expression and the assessment of the virulence potential of this pathogen under different environmental conditions. He has had experiments conducted on the space shuttle and on the International Space Station. Currently, he is investigating rapid methods to detect antimicrobial resistance in bacteria. He has numerous scholarly publications and co-holds 4 patents. He has trained and mentored graduate students, undergraduate students, and postdoctoral research fellows who have gone on to highly successful careers in academia and in other areas.
Dr. Niesel is co-creator and co-host of the Medical Discovery News, a radio show that is syndicated and broadcast on more than 110 stations in 16 states and in Puerto Rico and three countries. This program and companion newspaper column which is published in five Texas newspapers brings advances in biomedical research to the public and has won national and regional awards.In summary, Dr. Niesel is a terrific scientist, educator, and administrator.
UTMB was awarded funds that it will use toward fighting bioterrorism. UTMB, Maryland-based Profectus Biosciences Inc., Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp. of British Columbia and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center received up to $26 million by the National Institutes of Health to advance treatments of the highly lethal hemorrhagic fever viruses known as Ebola and Marburg. Ebola and Marburg are considered to have the most potential to be used in a deadly bioterrorism attack, causing mass casualties and producing devastating effects to the economy. UTMB’s Thomas Geisbert is a researcher at its Galveston National Laboratory. He stated: “This research impacts public health in areas where the viruses are endemic, but also presents opportunities in the biotechnology sector to develop treatments for people that visit these areas, such as tourists, or soldiers — anyone who may face these threats."
Andy McNees appointed Administrator of the GSBS and Office of Regulated Nonclinical Studies
Andy McNees, PhD, MBA, has been appointed Administrator for the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and our Office of Regulated Nonclinical Studies, which was recently established to provide scientific, regulatory and good laboratory practice support to our research and development programs. Dr. McNees will continue to serve as Administrator for Basic Sciences II, and we are grateful that he has graciously agreed to take on these additional duties within our Academic Enterprise. Since joining UTMB nearly 25 years ago, Dr. McNees has assumed increasing levels of responsibility. He is a member of the Strategic Management Task Force for “UTMB Health 2020 Academic Enterprise,” a major collaborative effort that will help us determine the steps we need to take now to ensure our ability to successfully serve our students, patients, alumni, employees, friends, the entire state of Texas and beyond.
Human Lungs Grown in Lab
For the first time, scientists at UTMB have successfully grown human lungs in the lab. Growing organs may seem like science fiction, but it's the goal of medical researchers because so many people need organ transplants and many die waiting for one. “The most exciting part is to shorten the time people have to wait for an organ transplant,” said UTMB Dr. Joaquin Cortiella. How did they do it? They started with a damaged lung. “We removed all the cells all the material in it, and just left the skeleton of the lung, or the scaffold, behind the pieces of the lungs that are no cells. That's why it's so white and pretty and there's no blood in it, it's very pretty looking. And then we added back cells from another lung that couldn't be used for transplant but still had some viable cells in it,” said Dr. Joan Nichols, who leads the UTMB team. Read more here...
National Institute of Health Ranking Information
The NIH has published its ranking information based on grant awards for federal fiscal year 2013, although such ranking information is just one measure of research productivity. Nine of the 18 School of Medicine departments maintained or improved their rankings. The Department of Microbiology & Immunology finished in the top 10, at #5 (out of 99).
The Newsroom • Published Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, 4:48 PM
The latest buzz on West Nile
The emergence of West Nile virus in the Western Hemisphere in 1999 poses an ongoing public health threat as the most common cause of epidemic encephalitis in the United States. Transmission occurs in a cycle involving mosquitoes, birds; horses, humans and other mammals. Human infections cause no symptoms in 80 percent of cases. West Nile fever develops in approximately 20 percent of infected patients. The fever can progress to neuroinvasive disease in a small number of cases. UTMB has been to studying the incidence of West Nile virus in the Houston metropolitan region for many years. Dr. Alan Barrett discusses recent findings with Jim Guidry of Guidry News Service.
The Newsroom • Published Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 2:25 PM
A new treatment for tularemia
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers have developed a new treatment that could be used against the bacteria that causes pulmonary tularemia, which has been identified as a potential bioterrorism agent.
Known as cystatin-9, the substance is one of a group of naturally occurring human proteins that function to moderate immune responses. In cell culture and mouse experiments, the researchers found that it also directly affected the bacteria responsible for tularemia, acting against them both in cultured macrophages (the immune cells that make up the first line of defense against invading bacteria) and mice.
"When we looked at cystatin-9 in the lungs with Francisella tularensis, we saw that it increased killing of the bacteria,” said associate professor Tonyia Eaves-Pyles, lead author of a paper on the work now online in Molecular Medicine. "Moreover, it did this without inducing the out-of-control immune response that generally accompanies tularemia 24 hours after the bacteria has been inhaled.”
That runaway immune response, Eaves-Pyles said, is more dangerous to the infected person than the infection itself, because it causes extensive tissue damage. But treatment with cystatin-9 moderates immune responses without completely shutting them down, allowing the immune system to continue fighting the bacterial invasion.
At the same time, cystatin-9 also has an effect on Francisella tularensis, disrupting the bacterial cell wall and making the bacteria less virulent. "So it’s two-fold,” Eaves-Pyles said. "Cystatin-9 is having effects on the host and it’s also having direct effects on the bacteria.”
Best known in connection with its natural hosts, rabbits, Francisella tularensis was weaponized by both the United States and the Soviet Union. Inhaling as few as 10 of the bacteria is enough to kill an untreated victim.
Prompt treatment with antibiotics can be effective, but the bacteria can go undetected by the host for 24 to 72 hours or longer after infection because the infection initially presents as cold or flu symptoms. This extended time allows the bacteria to replicate and spread out of the lungs, making it difficult to know in time whether a person has been exposed.
Eaves-Pyles envisions cystatin-9 being used as a prophylactic by U.S. military or other personnel in situations where they are likely to encounter aerosolized Francisella tularensis. The protein is small, easily produced and stable, making it particularly suitable for field applications.
In the lab, she expects it to lead to a better understanding of the interactions that govern immune responses to infection.
"Once we really start defining the mechanism of cystatin-9, we’re going to see how it affects protein changes., and those proteins may be able to be targeted specifically and used to better understand what is a protective immune response versus an unrestrained, damaging inflammatory response,” Eaves-Pyles said. "So I think it’s going to give us a lot of information not just about Francisella but other human pathogens as well.”
Other authors of the paper include research associates Jignesh Patel and Aaron Miller, associate professor Yingzi Cong, graduate students Anthony Cao and Eric Carlsen, professors Nisha Garg, Richard Pyles, Vsevolod Popov, Lynn Soong and Csaba Szabo, and postdoctoral fellow Ciro Coletta, all from UTMB; Emma Arigi and Igor Almeida of the University of Texas at El Paso; Bernard Arulanandam of the University of Texas at San Antonio; and Monisha Dhiman of the Central University of Punjab, India. This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.
The Newsroom • Published Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 2:23 PM
Tick by tick
When University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers set out to study Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus, they faced a daunting challenge.
The deadly virus requires biosafety level 4 containment, and it's carried by ticks. That meant that if scientists wanted to study the transmission of the virus, they had to do something that had never been done before: find a way to work safely with the tiny, tough bugs in a maximum containment "spacesuit lab.”
"It was completely new territory for us,” said UTMB assistant professor Dennis Bente, senior author of a paper describing the BSL4 tick work in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. "Ticks are very small, and in the BSL4 you have two pairs of gloves on, you have this bulky suit, you have the plastic visor-all these things are a huge handicap. So how do you make sure you contain them?”
The answer: step by painstaking step. Bente and his collaborators first attached small "feeding capsules” onto mice, and then placed ticks of a species that carries Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus into the capsules. Unlike mosquitoes that feed quickly and fly off, most ticks attach and feed slowly over the course of several days. Once the ticks were attached and began feeding, they and the mice were moved into a room in the Galveston National Laboratory BSL4 set aside for tick research.
There, in a sealed glove box lined with sticky tape to capture any ticks attempting to escape, the mice were inoculated with Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus. The feeding-capsule enclosed ticks, each of which, tick by tick, was individually accounted for at every stage of the experiment, then acquired the virus when they fed on the infected mice.
"We did hours upon hours of testing to get this system working,” Bente said. "We tested different types of sticky tape to determine the one that best inhibited the ticks' mobility, we tried different gloves, we tested the work flow, we checked to see how long a tick could last if you submerge it in disinfectant.” (The answer: more than 24 hours)
The result, Bente said, is a tool that will give researchers a crucial window into a virtually unknown aspect of one of the world's most widely distributed hemorrhagic fever viruses- a pathogen responsible for outbreaks from Greece to India to South Africa. "Ticks play such a vital role in the epidemiology of the disease - they're not only the vector but they are also the reservoir for the virus, yet nobody really knows what's happening to the virus in the ticks, because there's been no way to study it in the laboratory,” Bente said. "Now we can look at the complete transmission cycle in a controlled setting, examining how the virus is passed from infected animal to the uninfected tick, and from the infected tick to the uninfected animal. That's something that people studying this in the field haven't been able to do before now.”
Among other things, the new system will enable the researchers to study the virus' transmission by a variety of tick species. On the list are North American ticks, to investigate the possibility that Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus, like West Nile virus, could be introduced into the United States.Other authors of the Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology paper include visiting scientist Aysen Gargili and assistant professor Saravanan Thangamani. This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense, National Biocontainment Training Center grant.
The Newsroom • Published Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 2:38 PM
A virus changes its stripes
Outbreak in Panama brought Latin America’s first human cases of eastern equine encephalitis
In the summer of 2010, the eastern Panamanian province of Darien experienced a phenomenon that had never been seen before in Latin America: a human outbreak of eastern equine encephalitis.
The mosquito-borne virus that causes the disease is found all over the Americas, and infects horses throughout its range. Human infections are diagnosed every year in North America and are taken quite seriously; they carry a 50 percent chance of mortality, and can result in lifelong neurological damage. But 2010 marked a dramatic change in the way the virus behaved in Latin America.
"Until the Darien outbreak, we had become convinced that the virus in South America was fundamentally different in its ability to infect people and cause serious disease,” said University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston professor Scott Weaver, senior author of a paper on the epidemic appearing in the August 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. "This epidemic broke that dogma’s back very quickly.”
UTMB researchers collaborated with Panamanian scientists to investigate the outbreak, testing samples from 174 patients and many horses. In the end, they confirmed 13 human cases of eastern equine encephalitis and one case of dual infection of both eastern and Venezuelan equine encephalitis.
"We saw only about a one in 10 case-fatality rate in Panama, which is low by U.S. standards,” Weaver said. "Still, if this virus has changed and become more virulent for people, we need to know, number one, is it going to spread to other parts of Latin America or number two, are other Latin American strains likely to do the same thing?”
Weaver noted that earlier studies have shown that the eastern equine encephalitis virus is common in many Latin American locations where human exposure to virus-carrying mosquitoes is high. Since the virus is constantly mutating, it’s possible that a strain like the one seen in 2010 in Panama could take hold in an ecosystem in nearby Colombia, Ecuador or the Peruvian Amazon.
"With a situation where a lot of people are being exposed to the virus, there would be the potential for a lot of new disease,” Weaver said. "So it’s important to understand what’s happening in Panama both for the Panamanians and for people all over Latin America.”
Additional authors of the paper include Jean-Paul Carrera, Sandra Lopez-Vergés, Nestor Sosa, Yamilka Díaz, Davis Beltrán, Julio Cisneros and Alex Martínez-Torres of the Gorgas Memorial Institute of Health Studies, Panama; Ivan Abadía, Elizabeth Castaño, Carmen Báez and Dora Estripeaut of the Hospital del Niño, Panama; Hector Cedeño of the Ministry of Health, Panama; Humberto Hernandez of the Ministry of Agricultural Development, Panama; and UTMB assistant professor Naomi Forrester, research scientist Eryu Wang, postdoctoral fellows Amy Vittor and Andrew Haddow, research associate Amelia Travassos da Rosa and professor Robert Tesh. Support for this research was provided by the National Institutes of Health and the Secretaría Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación, Panama.
ASM's Infection and Immunity (IAI) Most Read Articles during February 2012
American Society for Microbiology, March 6, 2012
Two publications from UTMB M&I scientists were highlighted by ASM's Infection and Immunity journal as the 3rd and 8th most read articles for February 2012:
Molecular Mechanisms That Mediate Colonization of Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli Strains by Mauricio J. Farfan and Alfredo G. Torres.
A Double, Long Polar Fimbria Mutant of Escherichia coli O157:H7 Expresses Curli and Exhibits Reduced In Vivo Colonization by Sonja J. Lloyd, Jennifer M. Ritchie, Maricarmen Rojas-Lopez, Carla A. Blumentritt, Vsevolod L. Popov, Jennifer L. Greenwich, Matthew K. Waldor and Alfredo G. Torres
The Newsroom • Published Monday, Jul. 15, 2013, 2:32 PM
UT Regents names six UTMB ‘Outstanding Teachers’
The University of Texas System Board of Regents has awarded six faculty members at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston with the board's highest honor in recognition of their performance in the classroom and their dedication to innovation and advancing excellence.
The Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards recognize faculty members at UT System institutions who have demonstrated extraordinary performance and innovation in the classroom and laboratory. The awards are among the largest in the nation, and given the depth and breadth of talent across the UT System, this awards program is also one of the nation’s most competitive.
"We are extremely proud of these members of our faculty,” said UTMB’s Dr. Danny O. Jacobs, executive vice president and provost, and dean of the School of Medicine. "They are committed to educational excellence and dedicated to our students.”
UT Regents chairman Gene Powell said the awards demonstrate the Board’s commitment to outstanding teaching. "These are world-class educators who are critical to the success of UT health institutions and who are critical to the ultimate success of their students. And the students they mentor and teach will become this state’s future outstanding health care providers,” he said.
This is the second year the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards have been conferred to faculty at UT System’s six health institutions. Each of these faculty members will receive a $25,000 award.
Faculty members undergo a series of rigorous evaluations by students, peer faculty and external reviewers. The review panels consider a range of activities and criteria in their evaluations of a candidate’s teaching performance, including classroom expertise, curricula quality, innovative course development and student learning outcomes.
The Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards complement a wide range of system-wide efforts that underscore the Board of Regents’ commitment to ensuring the UT System is a place of intellectual exploration and discovery, educational excellence and unparalleled opportunity.
The UTMB Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award recipients for 2013:
Dr. Judith F. Aronson
Professor and Vice Chairwoman for Education, Department of Pathology
My goals as a teacher are to instill enthusiasm for learning, to be a role model for lifelong learning and to provide moral support for learners. I aspire to be the "guide on the side," promoting active student engagement in tasks that yield a sense of discovery. I rejoice when a learner asks a question that I cannot answer, for it means that the learner has become curious about something and has formulated a detailed question with which to interrogate "the knowledge cloud."
Anne Hudson Jones
Professor and Harris L. Kempner Chair in the Humanities in Medicine, Institute for the Medical Humanities
After decades of teaching I believe more than ever in the intrinsic worth and transformative potential of the humanities to help us understand what it means to be human, honor enduring values in a world of rapid technological change and aspire to virtue in our personal and professional lives. As a teacher, I am simultaneously an experienced guide and a fellow seeker who can learn from the thoughtful responses of others. Teaching and studying the humanities is an ongoing endeavor, the work and joy of a lifetime.
Brian T. Miller
Distinguished Teaching Professor, Division of Anatomy, Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology
In my experience, the most effective teachers are those who possess a profound knowledge of their subject and have the ability to synthesize, organize and present complex information in an engaging and lucid manner. Moreover, such teachers continually strive to demonstrate how to develop and use the knowledge and skills that will be critical to their students’ professional success.
Linda R. Rounds
Professor, Betty Lee Evans Distinguished Professor in Nursing
Distinguished Teaching Professor, School of Nursing
I believe that education on any level is a collaborative process enriched by the experiences and contributions of both faculty and students. Faculty should be learners as well as teachers in this process. My goal is to create learning experiences that are interesting, innovative and stimulating such that the student develops an interest in continuing to learn more in a course or a lifetime.
Dr. Judith L. Rowen
Associate Dean for Educational Affairs and Professor, Department of Pediatrics
I love what I do, and as an infectious disease physician I believe enthusiasm is contagious. Whenever I teach, whoever the learners may be, I strive to make the encounter fun. By the same token, I hold my trainees to high standards. I believe it is an amazing privilege to be a physician and have patients invite us into their lives. I try to instill that same passion and sense of awe in those I teach.
Laura L. Rudkin
Professor, Preventive Medicine and Community Health
Academics who approach their teaching duties as a form of scholarship will think more carefully about the end goals of curricula. In our programs, we aim to produce competent and caring health care professionals and researchers who will act to improve individual and population health and reduce health disparities. To quote a Carnegie Foundation report, we educate students "to contribute to the life of their times.”
View all of the UT System award recipients at http://www.utsystem.edu/teachingawards/.
Newsroom • Published Thursday, Jun. 13, 2013, 10:12 AM
The UTMB researcher receives funding to study deadly viruses
Work will focus on vaccine for Ebola and Marburg and immune response
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston associate professor Alexander Bukreyev has embarked on two major federally funded investigations into the Ebola and Marburg viruses.
In the first, supported by a five-year $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Bukreyev will work to develop a new needle-free aerosol vaccine designed to protect against both viruses. No effective vaccine or therapy currently exists for either Ebola or Marburg; both have high mortality rates and have been implicated in numerous recent outbreaks in Central Africa.
Also working with Bukreyev on the project will be UTMB professors Thomas Ksiazek and Thomas Geisbert.
Blood samples taken from survivors of Ebola and Marburg outbreaks will form the basis of Bukreyev’s second recently funded project, a five-year $1.8 million Defense Threat Reduction Agency contract to investigate human immune responses to infections by the viruses. Bukreyev will be collaborating with Dr. James Crowe of Vanderbilt University on the project, in which monoclonal antibodies — copies of molecules made by the immune system to target specific pathogens — will be used to explore the natural defenses mounted by Ebola and Marburg survivors against the viruses.
"One of the most striking features seen in most Ebola and Marburg infections is the lack of protective immune response,” Bukreyev said. "Some patients do mount a successful response, however, and in the clinical component of this exciting study we’ll be investigating the molecular and genetic components involved in this process.”
The Newsroom • Published Wednesday, Jun. 12, 2013, 4:32 PM
What’s the buzz on this year’s West Nile season?
Last summer’s West Nile fever season came as a rude awakening for most Americans — and in particular, for residents of Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area was the epicenter of 2012’s unprecedented resurgence of the mosquito-borne virus, which had been relatively inactive during the previous four years. Dallas-Fort Worth accounted for the majority of West Nile activity in Texas, and the Lone Star State had more than a third of the nation’s total West Nile infections.
Why Dallas-Fort Worth, and why Texas? And what should we expect from the virus in the coming summer?
The answer to the first question, according to researchers: it’s complicated. And to the second: we don’t know, but we should be ready anyway.
"When this happened there were immediate suggestions that some specific change must have caused this — that the virus had suddenly become more virulent, or that a particular environmental factor was to blame,” said University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston associate professor David Beasley, the lead author of a commentary on the resurgence now online in Antiviral Research. "However, from what has been reported about the 2012 outbreak so far, it seems that not much had changed at all — we just got the right confluence of factors that were needed for more intense transmission of virus.”
Human West Nile infections arrive via a circuitous path that involves not just mosquitoes, but also birds. In fact, researchers consider the passage of West Nile from mosquito to bird and back again to be the virus’ primary cycle; humans are generally infected after being bitten by mosquitoes that have fed on birds, whose blood contains high concentrations of the virus.
According to Beasley, the North Texas West Nile outbreak likely involved both mosquito-friendly climate conditions that resulted in an abundance of the species of mosquitoes that carry West Nile in Texas and the presence of large numbers of birds capable of being infected by the virus. Add in reduced human concern about the risk of infection — a result, in part, of the four-year lull in West Nile activity — and you have everything you need for a viral version of a "perfect storm” in Dallas-Fort Worth.
"It could just as easily have happened in any number of U.S. cities,” Beasley said. "Ultimately, it comes down to having infected mosquitoes and having susceptible amplifying hosts, which are the birds, and putting them in the same place as a large number of people who aren’t really paying much attention to whether they’re being bitten or not.”
In essence, then, it’s a matter of complicated odds: if the climatological, ecological and behavioral factors line up right, you’ve got a good chance of a bad summer for West Nile. But, since so many different variables are involved, it’s nearly impossible to predict exactly what will happen in advance.
"It’s kind of like predicting the weather,” Beasley said. "You can have a general idea about what’s likely to happen, about what locations have higher overall risks based on historical data, and you might be able to detect the early indicators of something that’s out of the ordinary. But predicting with weeks or months advance notice that something bad will happen this year or next year in a particular geographic area is certainly beyond what we can do now.”
That uncertainty makes it all the more important that West Nile surveillance programs are maintained, even during long periods in which the virus seems to have become dormant.
"West Nile is not going to go away,” Beasley said. "Activity may decline for a while, but that doesn’t mean we can forget about it, because we’re going to periodically see this kind of resurgence, and we have to be able to detect increased activity to give public health people a chance to respond, whether that’s with mosquito control or by raising public awareness.”
The Newsroom • Published Thursday, May. 2, 2013, 1:42 PM
Ebola’s secret weapon revealed
Researchers have discovered the mechanism behind one of the Ebola virus’ most dangerous attributes: its ability to disarm the adaptive immune system.
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston scientists determined that Ebola short-circuits the immune system using proteins that work together to shut down cellular signaling related to interferon. Disruption of this activity, the researchers found, allows Ebola to prevent the full development of dendritic cells that would otherwise trigger an immune response to the virus.
"Dendritic cells typically undergo a process called ‘maturation’ when they’re infected by a virus — they change shape and present antigens on their surface that tell T-cells to attack that particular virus, thus generating an adaptive immune response,” said UTMB professor Alexander Bukreyev, senior author of a paper on the discovery now online in the Journal of Virology. "But Ebola prevents dendritic-cell maturation and produces a severe infection without an effective adaptive immune response. We found that its ability to do this depends on several specific regions of two different proteins.”
Bukreyev’s research group made the discovery after a series of procedures that started with a clone of the Ebola Zaire virus strain. Working under maximum-containment conditions in a biosafety level 4 facility in UTMB’s Galveston National Laboratory, the team introduced mutations into the virus’ genetic code at four locations thought to generate proteins that affected immune response.
They then infected human dendritic cells with each of the resulting new strains and compared the results with those produced by unmutated Ebola Zaire. Each of the four new viruses, they found, was unable to suppress dendritic-cell maturation.
"We saw two very interesting things,” Bukreyev said. "First, that these mutations restore maturation of dendritic cells very effectively, and second, that a mutation in even one of these genetic domains makes the virus unable to suppress maturation. That means that the virus needs multiple combined effects in order to undermine the immune system in this way.”
Ebola’s ability to evade the human immune response is one of the factors that accounts for its high mortality rate — up to 90 percent in humans — and the notoriety that it gained after its first appearance in Zaire in 1976, in an outbreak that killed 280 people. Zaire — now the Democratic Republic of the Congo — is the home country of Ndongala Lubaki, lead author on the paper and a postdoctoral fellow at UTMB.
Other authors of the Journal of Virology paper include postdoctoral fellow Phillipp Ilinykh, assistant research lab director Collette Pietzsch, research scientist Bersabeh Tigabu, assistant professor Alexander Freiberg and Richard Koup of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Vaccine Research Center. This research was supported by the John Sealy Memorial Endowment Fund and the James W. McLaughlin Endowment.
Medical research is key to nation's health
Galveston County Daily News, February 12, 2012
In this guest column, UTMB's Dr. Cary W. Cooper writes about the importance of medical research to the nation's health. "At UTMB, we're investing heavily in the facilities and expertise needed to be a world leader in medical research. … We all want to reduce the deficit. But let's not jeopardize the next generation of cures by cutting funding for medical research."
Three UTMB departments near top in NIH grants survey
Galveston County Daily News, January 25, 2012
A survey of National Institutes of Health grant funding received by medical school departments in 2011 ranked three UTMB departments in the top 10 in their respective fields, and placed the medical branch's microbiology and immunology department sixth in the nation. The report found the medical branch's obstetrics and gynecology and pathology departments both came in eighth nationally in NIH awards in their respective categories.