National Institutes of Health Awards Baylor Research Institute $14.6 Million Grant to Create Center for Translational Research on Human Immunology And Biodefense

DALLAS Baylor Research Institute (BRI) announced today that it has received a $14.6 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), one of the National Institutes of Health, to create the Baylor/NIAID Center for Translational Research on Human Immunology and Biodefense.

Investigators will study the human immune system's response to emerging pathogens, such as West Nile Virus, SARS and other virulent agents, and seek to develop vaccines against them. The Center will focus primarily on the study of dendritic cells, which activate and control the immune system and play a major role in vaccination.

"While vaccines have been developed to combat many infectious diseases, natural evolution has created new biothreats for which new and different vaccines are needed. We want to transition this research quickly and safely from the laboratory into clinical practice," said Jacques Banchereau, PhD, director of BRI's Baylor Institute for Immunology Research and the new Baylor/NIAID Center for Translational Research on Human Immunology and Biodefense. "By determining how pathogens affect human dendritic cells, we gain the knowledge necessary for the development of improved vaccines."

New technology is needed for human immune system research. The Baylor/NIAID Center for Translational Research on Human Immunology and Biodefense will develop new ways to obtain information from single immune cells so that small tissue and blood samples may be used to monitor the immune response. Investigators will develop new technologies to determine how the body reacts to vaccine or infection. Understanding the immune mechanisms causing strong versus weak immune responses will help investigators develop more effective vaccines.

"This award will permit investigators at the Baylor Institute for Immunology Research to further develop their studies aimed at harnessing dendritic cells to induce protective immunity against emerging pathogens, whether they are released deliberately or arise naturally in the environment," said Michael Ramsay, MD, president of Baylor Research Institute.

"One objective of the center is to educate scientists worldwide in human immunology. Each year, BRI will host an annual Human Immunology/Biodefense Symposium and Workshop, train up to five scientists per year in techniques unique to the Center and launch a Human Immunology of Biodefense Web site where critical information will be shared with other centers involved in similar research," said Joel Allison, president and chief executive officer of Baylor Health Care System.

BRI is one of five organizations across the country, including Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston; Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta; Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, Calif.; and University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worchester, Md., that will receive funding for this new research program over the next four and a half years. Banchereau will lead a team of investigators primarily from BRI, as well as NIAID, Yale University, Rockefeller University, University of New Mexico and UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Through its Baylor Institute for Immunology Research, BRI focuses on developing new therapies, such as cell therapy, to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases and novel vaccines against infectious diseases. Investigators soon will begin research on manipulating the immune system to improve the acceptance of transplanted organs.

Banchereau and his team achieved their most recent success through aggressive development and enrollment of patients in Food and Drug Administration-approved clinical trials for metastatic melanoma, a deadly skin cancer. When injected into patients, the antigen-loaded dendritic cells are expected to ramp up patients' immune responses against their own tumors, thereby killing the cancer.

"There have been glimmers of success," Banchereau said. "In September 2001, my co-workers and I reported that 16 of 18 patients with advanced melanoma who received injections of dendritic cells loaded with melanoma antigens showed signs in laboratory tests of an enhanced immune response to their cancer. Tumor growth also was slowed in the nine patients who mounted responses against more than two of the antigens."

Source: Baylor Research Institute