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Albright College Biologist and Team Awarded National Institutes of Health Grant to Research Virus and Immune System Response

Aug. 18, 2015

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Assistant professor of biology Adam Hersperger, Ph.D., at work in his lab

Reading, Pa. – Albright College assistant professor of biology Adam Hersperger, Ph.D., is part of a research team that has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the interaction between viruses and a host’s immune response.

Hersperger is a co-principal investigator on the study, along with Laurence Eisenlohr, VMD, Ph.D., of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Rachel Roper, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology at East Carolina University.

The R01 NIH grant, worth approximately $1.65 million over four-and-a-half years, will enable the researchers to study mousepox, or ectromelia virus, a lesion-causing disease that can be fatal in mice but doesn’t affect humans. Mousepox is not only safe to work with, but also a great model system to study virus immune responses, said Hersperger.

The researchers will hone in on the relationship between CD4 T-cells, which are critical to fend off viruses inside the body, and ectromelia, which is able to dampen the CD4 T-cell response, presumably to aid its replication and spread. The researchers will attempt to understand the viral mechanism of immune evasion in greater detail.

“This grant will look into an extremely important area of research that strives to better understand how pathogens interact with the host organisms they infect,” said Hersperger. “Our work will hopefully elucidate several novel mechanisms of viral immune evasion. It may also lead to new ideas for vaccines or therapeutics that target the immune system.”

Hersperger will be allocated more than $160,000 of the funding over the life of the grant to cover equipment maintenance, laboratory supplies, and a research student's salary each summer of the grant period. Albright students will be selected to work on the study through the Albright Creative Research Experience (ACRE) program.

All three researchers will conduct aspects of the work in their respective laboratories. Hersperger and his students will create several strains of mousepox virus that will be used to complete various goals of the grant. Some of these viruses will be shipped to Eisenlohr to conduct infection studies of live mice in his lab. Albright does not house laboratory animals.

The researchers also hope to better understand the inhibitory mechanism of the B22 protein produced by the virus, and much of that work will be performed in Hersperger’s lab at Albright.

“This grant will provide valuable resources to conduct my research and allow me to involve numerous undergraduates over the next several years in these pursuits,” said Hersperger.

The three researchers have been interacting regularly for several years. Hersperger conducted his post-doctoral work in Eisenlohr’s laboratory while the latter was at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. In fact, Hersperger’s work there was the impetus for this study.

The study of poxvirus biology is important for human health, as some of these viruses can jump from animals to humans. A number of poxvirus outbreaks have been reported in recent years, sometimes with fatal results. Monkeypox has affected parts of Africa, while the United States had several dozen confirmed cases in 2003. And the threat of smallpox and monkeypox being used as biological weapons persists.

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Founded in 1856, Albright College is a selective, national liberal arts college enrolling 1,700 full-time undergraduates and more than 800 adult learners and graduate students. The College’s flexible interdisciplinary curriculum, strengthened by a close-knit residential learning environment, encourages students to combine majors and disciplines to create individualized academic programs. Close faculty mentorship, numerous experiential learning options, and a diverse, supportive community of scholars and learners help students exceed their own expectations and graduate with a commitment to a lifetime of service and learning. Albright College is located in Reading, Pennsylvania.

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