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Albright College Researchers Unlocking Mysteries of Poxviruses and Vaccines

March 31, 2015

Reading, Pa. – New research from Albright College is helping to unlock the mysteries of poxviruses, which could eventually lead to the development of more effective vaccines.

Albright senior Erin Hand, of Leesport, Pa., and Adam Hersperger, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, co-authored a study this month in the journal PLOS ONE that seeks to explain why mousepox only infects mice, while similar poxviruses infect multiple species.

For the study, the researchers introduced mousepox (also known as ectromelia virus) into a rabbit cell. Knowing the pox wouldn't replicate on its own, Hersperger and Hand tried lacing the mousepox with two viral proteins - E3L and K3L – from vaccinia virus, a similar poxvirus that infects many species.

The proteins had no effect; the modified mousepox did not replicate in the rabbit cell.

Though the procedure failed, the researchers succeeded in eliminating the two proteins as potential agents to help mousepox replicate in rabbits.

"Now researchers can check these two proteins off the list and try something else," said Hersperger.

The research helps to increase the general body of knowledge surrounding poxviruses, which is important due to the role these viruses play in both infecting and curing people.

Humans are at risk from several poxviruses. Monkeypox, for instance, can jump from monkeys or rodents to humans and is becoming more prevalent in Africa, said Hersperger. The disease can be lethal.

At the other end of the spectrum, certain poxviruses also serve as vaccine vectors, or vehicles for delivering vaccines against some of the worst diseases known to man. Vaccinia, for instance, was used to eradicate smallpox.

Researchers believe canarypox could potentially be used to deliver an HIV vaccine. This pox, which infects birds, is not harmful to humans. And some cancer research therapies are exploring how rabbitpox can kill cancer cells while leaving healthy tissue untouched.

Mousepox, said Hersperger, could turn out to be a great vaccine vector.

"The more we can learn about the factors that cause viruses to replicate in certain cells, the more we can tailor vaccines," he said.

The published study grew out of a 2013 Albright Creative Research Experience (ACRE), a multi-disciplinary program that affords students the opportunity to work with faculty mentors to conduct research or pursue creative endeavors during their winter or summer breaks.

This was Hand's first published study.

"It was pretty exciting. I really enjoy research," said Hand, a biology major, who hopes to pursue a career in medical technology after graduation.

To access the full study: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0119189

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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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