UH medical school expands vaccine research through NIH grant to minority student researcher
Pictured: Liana Medina working in the Lehrer Lab at JABSOM
By Tina Shelton UH Med Now
The University of Hawaiʻi is expanding its studies of a proposed vaccine for the deadly Ebola virus. A new grant of nearly $112,000 awarded to a graduate student working with Dr. Axel Lehrer at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) makes the additional work possible.
Lehrer’s promising vaccine candidate has already been proven effective in animal clinical studies. Under a grant to support minority scientists, Liana Medina hopes to show the vaccine might protect against other deadly viruses related to Ebola.
“We are looking to see if our vaccine candidate can protect in other members in the filovirus family, viruses that are related to Ebola virus such as Marburg Virus and Sudan Virus,” said Liana Medina, PhD Candidate, who was awarded the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to Minority Students (she is of Hispanic heritage).
“That would be hugely important in the case of a future outbreak in which we don’t know which virus will be infecting the populations,” said her mentor, Dr. Axel Lehrer, Assistant Professor at the JABSOM Department of Tropical Medicine, Medical Microbiology and Pharmacology.
Liana Medina was invited to present her research at this summer’s American Society of Virology meeting on the mainland.
More about the research–“Q & A” with the scientist
What—in layperson’s terms—is your research about?
Liana Medina: We are working on developing a safe and effective vaccine against Ebolavirus, a member of the Filovirus family, and Marburgvirus, another virus in that family. We will do this using proteins found on/in Ebolavirus. Animal studies using this vaccine have been done to determine if is safe, if is protective against infection, and what kind of immune response is related to protection. We are looking at antibody responses to see if antibodies against the viral proteins are being produced and to see if these antibodies can keep virus from getting into cells. We are also looking at immune cells to see if they remember and respond to viral proteins.
What are the most significant of your findings?
Liana: So far our findings have shown that we can create a vaccine that is safe, and that can keep various types of animals from getting sick when infected with Ebolavirus. We have also found that antibodies against viral proteins are being produced in vaccinated animals and that immune cells from these animals remember and respond to viral proteins.
Who are your collaborators and funders in this endeavor?
Liana: Grants 5R01AI119185-02, 3R01AI119185-02S1 from the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease), in collaboration with the Geisbert lab at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
What are the next steps in this line of research?
Liana: We will be looking further into the types of antibodies produced in vaccinated animals and if these antibodies can prevent virus from entering cells. We will also look at immune cells from animals that were protected against infection and those that were not, to see if we can find differences that are related to protection. We would also like to see if using proteins from Ebola virus can protect against infection with closely related viruses.
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