Anthrax vaccine is WSU professor, students' goal
Jan 21, 2011 2:25 PM | Print
Through his and others' research, Wichita State University associate chemistry professor Jim Bann has developed a protein in his WSU lab that has the potential to save the lives of future anthrax victims.
Bann was recently awarded a patent concerning the protein, which could someday be used as an anthrax vaccine or anti-toxin.
The patent is the result of research conducted by Bann, WSU undergraduate and graduate students and formerly Harvard University's R. John Collier, a leader in anthrax research.
While Bann is leading WSU's research on the topic, the students who are involved are getting a unique hands-on experience.
"The research we do is largely through the efforts of WSU students, who are so incredibly talented," he said. "My hope is that students who are interested and participate in this research, now and in the future, will continue toward a career in research, trying to improve the quality of human life through their own creativity. Then we would all benefit."
WSU graduate student Alex Williams, a native of Towanda, Kan., said his time as a student helped prepare him for his work in Bann's lab and on this project.
"Working on this research project has given me a unique experience, allowing myself to fully incorporate the knowledge I have acquired from WSU and apply it to a hypothesis-driven research project," Williams said. "The fact that it has wider applications, such as an anthrax vaccine, allows me to feel as if I was benefiting all of humanity instead of just myself."
Bann became involved in this research in early 2005. He wanted to understand how one of the components of the anthrax toxin – a protective antigen – made a pore inside of animal and human cells. The pore is essential in making anthrax toxic.
Bann's research group decided to test a hypothesis by incorporating an amino acid called fluorohistidine into the protective antigen. The result of the research showed that key steps in the process of toxicity became blocked, protecting cells from the lethal effects of the toxin.
The patent that Bann received protects the idea of using fluorohistidine as a therapeutic against anthrax, and anyone wanting to use the idea would require a license from Wichita State. If it were to become commercially available, WSU would obtain a share of the profits from the sale.
But, Bann said, that is still a long way off.
"We are still at the beginning," he said.
Bann is planning to work with the University of Kansas' Russ Middaugh, an expert in protective antigen vaccine formulation, to determine whether this could be useful as a vaccine and as an antitoxin.
Bann said his research team's findings have the potential to make a big impact on the effects of anthrax.
"The fluorohistidine protective antigen can potentially be used to treat anthrax during an infection," he said. "Right now, there is no treatment that's directed at the toxin. The toxin is really what's responsible for the death that occurs only a few days after exposure. So, it could potentially be life-saving in the event of an anthrax attack."
For more information, contact Bann at (316) 978-7373 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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