South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Disease researchers
Front row: Annette Rodriguez, Neal Guentzel, Bernard Arulanandam
Back row: Jieh-Juen Yu, Thomas Forsthuber and Karl Klose.

UTSA makes progress on tularemia research

By Kris Rodriguez
Public Affairs Specialist

(July 1, 2008)--Researchers at the UTSA South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) have identified a cell type believed to play a role in controlling the early infectious process against Francisella tularensis, a respiratory pathogen and bioterrorism agent that causes tularemia. The findings will be released this week in an article in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The organism is considered to be a life-threatening bioterrorism agent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tularemia is an illness caused primarily by bites or scratches from rabbits, rodents and hares. In most cases, the bacterium causes relatively benign fever, chills and headaches that can be treated with antibiotics. However, when spread by aerosol the organism can cause severe respiratory illness and systemic infections and is associated with a 30-40 percent mortality rate.

"We have found that mast cells, historically associated with allergic conditions and asthma, may also be involved in priming innate and adaptive immunity against tularemia," said Bernard Arulanandam, UTSA College of Sciences immunologist and associate professor of biology. "Our studies show that mast cells can interact with other cells and control the number of bacteria that replicate. This opens up a new dimension into how we look at mast cells against this organism, Francisella tularensis."

In 2005, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded the UTSA South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases a five-year $6.4 million grant to study tularemia.

Collaborators in the published study include Jyothi Ketavarapu, Annette Rodriguez, Karl Klose, Neal Guentzel, Thomas Forsthuber, Jieh-Juen Yu, Yu Cong, Ashlesh Murthy and Bernard Arulanandam at UTSA, and Mike Berton with UTHSCSA.

"I think this journal article shows the quality of the researchers that we have managed to attract to UTSA, and we should be proud that important research is taking place on our campus as opposed to a medical school someplace else," said Karl Klose, executive director of the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases. "This is really a move in the right direction towards developing this university into a premier research institution."

Comprised of 19 research teams led by College of Sciences faculty, STCEID is one of the leading emerging infectious disease research centers in the country, generating more than $10 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health and private organizations since opening in 2005. STCEID research focuses on critical areas of human health including anthrax, tularemia, cholera, Lyme disease, desert valley fever, and other bacterial and fungal diseases.

STCEID's advanced research laboratories on the UTSA 1604 Campus are in the Biosciences Building, Margaret Batts Tobin Laboratory Building and the Biotechnology, Sciences and Engineering Building. Included in the facilities are two high-level containment biosafety level-three (BSL-3) laboratories for infectious agents research.

For more information, visit the STCEID Web site.

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