Volume 13, Number 11 February 3, 2006

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Flexibility, energy part of VIDO success

The head of the Vaccine & Infectious Disease Organization says its flexible, energetic style is making the U of S-based centre a world leader in the fight against persistent human and animal diseases.

In a Jan. 27 speech on campus, Director Lorne Babiuk says VIDO is thriving by being competitive and fast.  “Research is like the Olympics.  You have to lead the pack.  If you’re not going for the gold medal, you shouldn’t even play.”

Babiuk told an audience of about 100 people that predictions in the 1960s that said success with antibiotics meant the war against infectious disease was won were wrong.  Some 30 new diseases emerged right after that, and many infect both animals and humans.  Babiuk added the rapid increase in antibiotic resistance shows that even new antibiotics will not stop micro-organisms for long, and “there have been no blockbuster antibiotics for 20 years.”

New approaches to fighting disease such as comparative genomics, vaccine additives and a focus on “innate immunity” hold a lot of promise, but these new technologies aren’t being developed fast enough, given global mortality statistics.  Babiuk says World Health Organization stats indicate more than 16.5 million people die from infectious disease each year, and diseases like tuberculosis, once considered under control, are returning.

Babiuk says a promising initiative at VIDO focuses on innate immunity. “The innate immune response is key to determining whether an infection starts or not … The body has a number of receptors that recognize something foreign and they respond within minutes or hours to overcome the infection.”  He added if this response could be managed, it would be a valuable tool against disease.

VIDO researchers have tested the animal protein cationic peptides against pneumonia, and the substance protected the animals as effectively as antibiotics, he says.  In addition, they reduce the potential for resistance to develop. 

The researchers also added the compound polyphosphazene to a current vaccine against hepatitis B and it provided protection for at least 48 weeks compared to vaccine’s normal effectiveness of just 12 weeks.

From material by Tess Laidlaw, VIDO Communications Officer.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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