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April 21, 2014 - Dr. Paul Brett Awarded $1.7 million by DTRA
Brett 03-web.jpgDr. Paul Brett, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, was recently awarded $1,728,535 by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) for his research involving biodefense and emerging infectious diseases. The award will cover a three-year study period.

According to Dr. Brett, the award will enable his lab to characterize the protective capacity of several promising vaccine candidates that they have developed for immunization against diseases caused by Burkholderia pseudomallei and Burkholderia mallei, the causative agents of melioidosis and glanders.

Melioidosis is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium found in water and soil that is spread to humans and animals through direct contact with these contaminated sources. Melioidosis is similar to glanders disease, which is passed to humans from infected domestic animals.

Research in Dr. Brett’s lab focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms used by these bacteria to cause disease in humans and animals.

“In particular, we are interested in identifying carbohydrates and proteins expressed by pathogenic Burkholderia species that enable these organisms to avoid detection and killing by the immune system,” Dr. Brett said. “Once identified, the goal of our research is to use these components to develop safe and effective vaccines.”

Dr. Brett said infections caused by pathogenic Burkholderia are often difficult to diagnose and treatment is complicated due to the organism’s high level of resistance to antibiotics. Because of this, there is a great deal of interest in developing effective countermeasures such as vaccines to immunize against diseases caused by these bacterial pathogens.

“Diagnosis and treatment of these diseases is challenging, and in the absence of appropriate antibiotic treatment, acute infections can be fatal,” Dr. Brett said. “Melioidosis and glanders are emerging/re-emerging infectious diseases for which no licensed vaccines currently exist.”

Other key investigators who will participate in the research project include Dr. Mary Burtnick, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, and Dr. Michele Schuler, associate professor of comparative medicine.

DTRA is the U.S. Department of Defense’s official Combat Support Agency for countering weapons of mass destruction.

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