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Team of Researchers from Fox Chase, Jefferson and Penn State Receive NIAID Grant for Viral Control

The team to receive a total of approximately $2 million each year for the next five years.

Philadelphia (May 27, 2009) – Researchers from Fox Chase Cancer Center, Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University and Penn State College of Medicine have been awarded a multi-million dollar grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease to study how the immune system controls viral infections. Their studies will focus on ectromelia virus, a mouse virus that causes mousepox (i.e., mouse smallpox) and serves as a research model for human smallpox. The studies will provide a better understanding of how the mammalian immune system copes with viral infection.

“We have assembled a team of researchers at each of our institutions that are well positioned to better understand why some individuals become sick or die following a viral infection while others remain healthy,” says Luis Sigal, DVM, PhD, a Fox Chase virologist and the principal investigator of the grant.  “I think the recent outbreak of H1N1 — the so-called swine flu — has made it abundantly clear that there is a need to understand further the basic mechanisms by which viruses infect people and how the immune system works in relation to these viruses.”

The funding will support research initiatives at each of the three lead institutions as well as two “core” facilities that will support the collective effort.  A microscopy core facility at Penn State College of Medicine will offer researchers the ability to image the interactions of fluorescent virus particles with immune cells. Fox Chase will host the group’s administrative facility as well a reagents facility that will allow for researchers to standardize how experiments are conducted.

The grant will focus on three main projects, one based at each of the partner institutions, yet inextricably linked through collaboration. Researchers from Cornell University will also contribute to these projects.

Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA
Laurence Eisenlohr, VMD, PhD, professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Jefferson, and his team  at the Jefferson Vaccine Center, will analyze the response of CD4+ T cells in mice to ectromelia virus. Vaccinia, the virus that has been used as the vaccine for smallpox has been studied frequently, but it is not a natural mouse pathogen and preliminary data show fundamental differences between the mouse responses to these two viruses. In examining mouse CD4+ T cell responses to mousepox, the researchers hope to identify general principles of defense against poxviruses that will likely be applicable to many other viral infections as well.

Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA
Sigal and his colleagues at Fox Chase will focus on two aspects of the immune system: the innate and adaptive response. The adaptive immune response encompasses the development of antibodies and cytotoxic (killer) T cells that provide lasting resistance to infection, while the innate immune system serves as the first line of defense to control the virus. In order to better understand how vaccines protect – and to develop new vaccines – the Fox Chase researchers will investigate the mechanisms whereby cytotoxic T cells and antibodies develop a lasting memory of infection. The Fox Chase team will also focus on one aspect of the innate response, the production of Type I interferons, molecules that reduce the spread of the virus and prevent disease. The researchers believe these interferons might help in developing therapies for emerging infections.   

Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, PA.
Chris Norbury, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, will lead a team to investigate the cell types and mechanisms involved in controlling the entry of viruses at the site of infection, the skin. They will study a type of white blood cell normally associated with the suppression of immune responses directed against tumors. These macrophage-like cells also protect against virus infection by producing interferons and significantly reduce virus-induced tissue damage.

Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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