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Vet college researchers develop brucellosis vaccine

By Jeffrey S. Douglas

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 37 - August 8, 1996

A brucellosis vaccine developed in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine has been endorsed as the official brucellosis vaccine by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Official approval of the RB-51 vaccine means that it will likely replace the existing Strain 19 vaccine as the world-wide standard in protection against brucellosis, a global animal- and human-health problem that causes millions of dollars in production losses each year, according to Gerhardt Schurig of the college's Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology.

Brucellosis, a bacterial disorder caused by the Brucella abortus organism, is largely controlled in the United States and western Europe, yet it remains a significant threat in Africa, the Middle East, Central and South America, and other developing areas of the world.

Brucellosis can be caught from eating under-cooked meat and unpasteurized dairy products from infected animals, or by handling infected tissues. In humans, it causes undulant fever, characterized by malaise, aches, and fevers up to 103-104 degrees. In animals, it causes reproductive disorders resulting in the abortion of infected fetuses.

Much of the brucellosis work done in the VMRCVM over the past 10 years has been structured upon RB51, a mutant strain of Brucella abortus Schurig developed in the early 1980s.

The mutant strain RB51 vaccine, which was trademarked by Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties in 1992, is unable to cause disease and has major serological advantages over existing vaccines. One of the most important is that it is precise enough that vaccinated animals may be distinguished serologically from infected animals, a feature that enables regulatory agencies and producers to avoid costly over-condemnations and expensive retesting.

With funding from the USDA, and working in the college's Center for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease (CMMID), Schurig and his colleagues are continuing to perfect the vaccine and develop new approaches for vaccination using modern genetic-engineering techniques. Faculty members participating in the project include Schurig, an immunologist, molecular biologist Stephen Boyle, bacteriologist Nathan Sriranganathan, and virologist Thomas Toth.

Schurig and his colleagues were recently awarded a $415,000 grant from the United States Army Medical Research and Development Command to develop a vaccine that will protect people from brucellosis. Work continues on that project.

CMMID is home to one of the nation's leading research programs into brucellosis. The VMRCVM has conducted nearly $1 million worth of research into brucellosis over the past 10 years, and has received five major grants from the USDA and other funding agencies.