Researchers at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation will be able to continue a long-running research project into anthrax after receiving a new federal grant.
The foundation said Tuesday the National Institutes of Health awarded a five-year, $14.5 million grant for research into anthrax and the bacteria’s effects on humans.
For the last 10 years, OMRF scientist Mark Coggeshall and his colleagues have studied the human response to anthrax as part of a federal effort to increase research after anthrax attacks in 2001.
“From the start, our goal has been to gain a better understanding of anthrax, especially its inhalable form,” Coggeshall said in a news release. “By the time a patient seeks medical care, antibiotics become less effective, and the toxin essentially shuts down the immune response.”
OMRF scientists teamed up with researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center to focus on sepsis, the blood poisoning that comes from anthrax exposure.
“We identified the trigger in the bacteria that causes this pathology,” Coggeshall said. “Now we are seeking ways to override or disable it and make it less deadly.”
The new grant covers three projects at OMRF, including parts of the anthrax bacteria that cause inflammation. Other areas are the study of the anthrax vaccine given to U.S. military personnel and the study of human components that contribute to inflammation accompanying bacterial infections.
OMRF President Dr. Stephen Prescott said researchers historically have focused on the anthrax bacteria.
“OMRF scientists decided, instead, to study how the human immune system forms — or fails to form — immune responses to those bacteria,” Prescott said. “That non-traditional approach now is paying off, and this additional funding should bring about incredible advances in our approach to treating anthrax infection.”
Coggeshall said terrorist attacks with “weaponized anthrax” are rare, but other applications can result from the research.
“We now have better ideas about how anthrax works,” Coggeshall said. “Even if we aren’t right about some of our ideas, the information we gain will be useful in teaching us more about other dangerous and infectious diseases caused by strep and MRSA and how to control them.”
Other research institutions receiving funding from the National Institute of Health’s Cooperative Centers for Human Immunology program include Stanford University, Harvard University, Rockefeller University, Emory University and the University of Maryland.