SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

University of Maryland researcher leads charge in development of Ebola vaccine

A researcher at the University of Maryland's (UM) School of Medicine is currently working to develop a vaccine against the Ebola virus, which has claimed more than 1,000 lives in West Africa.

Alan Schmaljohn, a professor of microbiology and immunology at UM, has spent decades studying the virus. As chief of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infection Diseases' (USAMRID) Viral and Immunology Branch, Schmaljohn helped identify three key antibodies currently used in combination to treat Ebola patients.

Schmaljohn is currently working as part of the UM partnership with Paragon Bioservices, a contract recipient of the Department of Defense, to manufacture a vaccine for initial testing in humans.

"Several vaccine candidates for Ebola virus are proceeding through initial manufacture toward safety testing in human volunteers," Schmaljohn said. "Different vaccine candidates are based upon different 'platforms' in which selected viral proteins may be made 'in the test tube' and purified for injection, or may be added genetically as passengers of a different variety of virus that is weakened. Only human trials will provide the final answers as to which vaccines are best on the basis of many criteria, foremost being safety and efficacy."

With support from the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies, UM's School of Medicine has helped lead vaccine development and the study of infectious diseases for years-work by the school's Center for Vaccine Development helped to create a discipline known as "vaccinology."

Additionally, UM's School of Medicine is home to the Institute of Human Virology, which is led by Robert C. Gallo. It is the first center in the country to combine disciplines to enhance the pace of diagnostic and therapeutic discovery for a variety of viral and immune disorders, including HIV.

"We are grateful to have scientists at the UM School of Medicine like Dr. Schmaljohn who have studied viruses like Ebola for decades," E. Albert Reece, the vice president of medical affairs at UM and dean of the UM School of Medicine, said. "We can now build on that knowledge and understanding to focus on bridging the science to the development of new vaccines. The University of Maryland School of Medicine is well-positioned to play an integral role in addressing this serious public health issue."

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