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SEATTLE - (Nov. 9, 2009) - Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) received a $7 million contract from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study cell responses and efficacy of vaccines for several well-known and exotic viruses, including influenza (seasonal and H1N1 "swine flu"), West Nile, Dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis (JEV) and yellow fever. West Nile, Dengue, JEV and yellow fever, also known as flaviviruses, are among the leading causes of mortality and morbidity worldwide. The five-year study will use BRI's tetramer technology to identify virus components that are targeted by T-cells following infection and vaccination.

"The goal here is to identify and ensure the most effective vaccines are being produced, and ultimately lead to new vaccines for viruses such as Dengue and West Nile," said William Kwok, PhD, principal investigator for the contract and BRI faculty member. Kwok is joined by co-investigator and clinical investigator Uma Malhotra, MD, of Virginia Mason Medical Center (VM), and Eddie James, PhD, study project manager and BRI tetramer core manager.

The researchers will first create tetramers that can identify and label T-cells that recognize the virus pattern of interest. Then the team will measure the T-cells readiness to respond to the virus. By doing these measurements before a person gets a vaccine and then after, scientists can characterize the T-cell response and the vaccine's potential effectiveness.

"At this point, we don't know which virus patterns are most important in the immune response," said James. "By measuring samples before and after vaccinations, we'll learn which components are most important to a particular vaccine."

The viruses in this study fall into three categories: 1) viruses with vaccines known to be highly or partially effective, such as seasonal flu and yellow fever; 2) viruses with new vaccines, such as H1N1 and JEV; and 3) viruses for which there are no existing vaccines, such as West Nile and Dengue. In this study, the team will establish baseline measurements from the first group to identify what the immune responses to an effective vaccine look like and compare this to immune responses generated by the vaccines in the second group. The goal is to develop scientific information about the virus components most important to T-cell response that will lead to the development of vaccines for the third group. All of the study information generated will go into a publicly-accessible database.

Researchers will work closely with Susan Holt, PA-C, of VM's Travel Clinic, personnel in VM Employee Health and others at VM and in the region to identify potential research participants. Participants will include healthy individuals, healthy people who have been vaccinated for influenza, people who have acute influenza A (H1N1 and seasonal) infection, healthy people who received yellow fever or JEV vaccines; healthy people who have a past history of West Nile or Dengue virus infection and people who have acute West Nile or Dengue virus infection.

About Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason
Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI), founded in 1956, is an international leader in immune system and autoimmune disease research, translating discoveries to real-life applications. Autoimmune disease happens when the immune system, designed to protect the body, attacks it instead. BRI is one of the few research institutes in the world dedicated to discovering causes and cures to eliminate autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and many others. Visit for more information about BRI, clinical studies and the more than 80 different types of autoimmune diseases.

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