November 29, 2006

Case faculty play major role in encouraging engineering research on vaccine production for pandemic flu

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The conference "Vaccine Production: Potential Engineering Approaches to a Pandemic," hosted by Case Western Reserve University last April, has already yielded significant results in the form of enhanced academic research interest in this subject. Four young academics who attended the meeting have received grant money to explore novel engineering approaches to flu vaccine production, and the conference is highlighted in the Fall 2006 issue of The Bridge, the quarterly publication of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).

The NAE, which along with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the National Academy of Science (NAS) comprise the National Academies, organized and sponsored the conference, which provided a national perspective on pandemic influenza preparedness, and the role engineering can play in enhancing vaccine production.

Arthur Heuer, University Professor, Kyocera Professor of Ceramics, and Conference Chair, explained that organizing and hosting the conference was a major accomplishment and required collaboration among different groups. "This joint meeting was quite unique. We raised money from industry, the Federal government, the State of Ohio, and several foundations. We were able to award travel scholarships to 25 young faculty in chemical and biomedical engineering from universities across the country, and also to create four $20,000 "seed" grants to help young faculty initiate novel research programs on vaccine production," Heuer said.

Heuer explained that the connection between engineering research and creating a pandemic flu vaccine in a timely manner is vital. The current method of vaccine production involves growing inactivated virus in embryonated eggs, requiring long times (~6 months) and providing limited production capacity. "There hasn't been a lot of academic work in vaccine production. This gives an opportunity for young engineering researchers to help find solutions for this potentially catastrophic public health problem if pandemic flu evolves."

Highlights from the conference are featured in the current issue of The Bridge. Heuer is the guest editor for the publication, and six papers covering the major technical issues discussed at the conference are included. A PDF version of Heuer's editorial and the six articles, can be found at http://www.nae.edu/TheBridge.

A diverse group of young engineering faculty submitted 18 proposals to the Conference, which were reviewed by Case faculty. Final selection of the four successful proposals was made by the Conference Steering Committee, all NAE or IOM members. In addition to Heuer, the Steering Committee included Trevor Jones, Chairman and Founder, Biomec Inc. and Finance Chair of the Conference, John Anderson, Provost and Professor of Chemical Engineering; John Angus, Kent Hale Smith Emeritus Professor of Engineering; Richard Hanson, Leonard & Jean Skeggs Professor of Biochemistry; and P. Hunter Peckham, Donnell Professor of Biomedical Engineering.

The grant recipients will study several novel approaches to pandemic flu vaccine production. The preliminary research supported by the seed grants should allow the recipients to develop significant research programs and to apply for major funding from the National Institutes of Health or other appropriate funding agencies. The young faculty receiving the one-year awards are:

Dr. Thomas Epps, III

Chemical Engineering Department
University of Delaware
Research project: "Using Cross-linkable Nonionic Block Copolymer Adjuvants to Enhance Influenza Vaccine Potency"

Dr. Sarah Harcum

Department of Bioengineering
Clemson University
Research project: "Feasibility of Alternative Cell Culture Substrates for Influenza Vaccine Production"

Dr. Blaine Pfeifer

Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Tufts University
Research project: "Cellular Engineering to Improve Vaccine Efficacy and Production"

Dr. Chenming (Mike) Zhang

Department of Biological Systems Engineering
Virginia Tech
Research project: "What roles can transgenic plants play in combating an influenza epidemic?"

Posted by: Heidi Cool, November 29, 2006 10:00 AM | News Topics: Case School of Engineering, Faculty, Healthcare, Research

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