"It certainly raises questions regarding the future direction of this area of research," said Blackman. "Perhaps more emphasis needs to be placed on trying to restore T cell development in the elderly. An alternative strategy might be to increase vaccinations in youth and middle age to generate specific or cross-reactive memory that will endure into old age."
According to Smiley, whose goal is to develop an effective vaccine against plague, Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, is one of the world's most deadly human pathogens.
"It caused the Black Death of the Middle Ages, which killed nearly one-third of the European population," said Smiley. "Although plague is naturally transmitted by fleas, Cold War scientists devised means to purposefully aerosolize the plague-causing bacteria. Inhalation of aerosolized Yersinia pestis causes the pneumonic form of plague, which is contagious and almost always fatal."
"My laboratory is trying to develop a vaccine that will protect our soldiers and civilians from this type of threat," he added. "We do this safely by studying a weakened form of the pathogen, which does not cause plague in humans."
While his immediate goal is to protect the military and public from Yersinia pestis, Dr. Smiley notes that similar bacteria are amongst the leading causes of fatal pneumonia in the United States. He believes his studies of plague will also help researchers develop vaccines and therapeutics for those other, much more common, pneumonias.
Funding for both Trudeau researchers will support staff and supplies for the duration of their respective projects.