Grants to fund reseach for flu, pneumonia

SARANAC LAKE - Representative John M. McHugh has announced that two Trudeau Institute scientists, Marcia A. Blackman and Stephen Smiley, have been awarded five-year federal research grants totaling nearly $4 million.

Dr. Blackman will receive $1.8 million from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to support her studies on the impact of aging on the T cell repertoire and cellular immunity to influenza virus.

Dr. Smiley, who was awarded $1.9 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (also part of the NIH), will continue to pursue his research aimed at developing a more suitable vaccine to protect against pneumonic plague, a pathogen experts cite as having the potential to be used by terrorists as a bio-weapon.

"Gaining funding during these challenging financial times points to the high quality of work underway at the Trudeau Institute," said McHugh following the announcement.

It is well-established that as people age they become significantly more susceptible to infections and difficult to vaccinate successfully. According to Blackman, as a result of increased vulnerability, respiratory virus infections, such as those caused by influenza, are a major cause of death and hospitalization in the elderly. She hypothesizes that this impaired immune function is due, in part, to declining T cell diversity. It is this diversity, or variety, of T cells that our immune system uses to defend against the many types of infections we encounter.

Blackman will use her grant funds to examine the mechanisms underlying the effect of reduced repertoire diversity on the initial response to new infection, as well as successful vaccination, which is dependent on the generation of a robust memory response. She believes her research has the potential to influence the way we vaccinate the elderly and could even lead to ways of reducing the age-associated loss of T cell diversity.

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