Assistant professor receives NIH grant to develop vaccine for rare disease

June 6, 2011 | Research, UToday
By Samantha Pixler



A new faculty member at The University of Toledo is working in the laboratory to develop a vaccine for a deadly type of bacterial pneumonia.

Dr. Jason Huntley, who joined the University last summer as an assistant professor of medical microbiology and immunology, received a five-year, $2 million National Institutes of Health grant to study the preclinical development of a tularemia vaccine. Tularemia is a deadly type of bacterial pneumonia that if contracted by humans could kill within five to six days.

The government is pushing for a vaccine because tularemia easily could be used as a bioterrorism agent due to its low infectious dose, rapid disease onset, and the ability to easily aerosolize into the air and cause high-mortality rates, Huntley said.

“This grant is a great opportunity for the University,” Huntley said. “Vaccine development and testing takes years, even decades, and I will probably devote my entire life to studying this disease and discovering new formulations to prevent it.”

Huntley and his team study the pathogen Francisella tularensis, the etiological agent of tularemia, to understand how this rare pathogen works and why it kills so quickly. The researchers do this by identifying the bacteria’s virulence factors, examining how it binds to host cells, and surveying how the immune system responds to the infection.

Huntley came to UT from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, where he completed his postdoctoral training. He completed his PhD in veterinary pathology in 2004 at Iowa State. He also holds a master’s degree in veterinary microbiology from Iowa State University.

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