NIH awards LSUHSC $9 million grant to develop pneumonia vaccine

Dr. Judd Shellito, Chief of the Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, has been awarded approximately $9 million in grant funding to develop a vaccine against Pneumocystis, an important cause of pneumonia in people with HIV infection. This potentially fatal illness is the most common serious opportunistic infection in people with HIV. The 5-year grant was awarded by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), which is caused by Pneumocystis jirovecii (formerly P. carinii), is frequently the first serious illness encountered by HIV-infected persons. During the early years of the AIDS epidemic, PCP was the AIDS-defining illness for as many as two thirds of patients in the United States. Patients in the developing world without access to PCP prophylaxis or antiretroviral drugs remain at high risk, and PCP continues to develop in certain groups in industrialized countries. There is also a potential for drug resistance to develop.

While officially classified as a fungal pneumonia, Pneumocystis pneumonia does not respond to antifungal treatment. The fungus that causes it is common in the environment and does not cause illness in healthy people. Besides those with HIV, it can also cause lung infection in people whose immune function is suppressed due to cancer, chronic use of corticosteroids or other medications that weaken the immune system, or organ or bone marrow transplants.

Dr. Shellito, who is also the Lowenstein Professor and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Medicine at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans' School of Medicine, has served as principal investigator on this Program Project grant which has been funded by the National Institutes of Health for 11 years. At the conclusion of the project, it will have brought nearly $17 million in federal funding to LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans. Dr. Shellito is collaborating with Dr. Jay Kolls, who holds faculty appointments at both LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans and the University of Pittsburgh.

"Lung infections remain an important problem for individuals infected with the HIV virus," notes Dr. Shellito. "Of these infections, one of the most severe is pneumonia caused by the fungal pathogen, Pneumocystis. This project seeks to develop a safe and effective vaccine not just to treat Pneumocystis pneumonia but to prevent it altogether. We believe that such a vaccine will lower the cost of treatment of HIV and improve the quality of life for individuals living with HIV."

Source: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center

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