April 15, 2010

Symposium honors Lamb Center’s 20 years

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Diane Griffin, M.D., Ph.D., signs a poster at last week’s symposium, along with fellow Discovery Lecturers, from left, Rafi Ahmen, Ph.D., Peter Palese, Ph.D., and Stephen Harrison, Ph.D. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Symposium honors Lamb Center’s 20 years

The Elizabeth B. Lamb Center for Pediatric Research hosted a birthday party last week to celebrate its 20 years of research in the areas of viral pathogenesis, basic virology, vaccine development and molecular immunology.

The celebration included a Discovery Lecture Series symposium featuring four investigators who have made “field-opening discoveries” in microbiology and immunology, said center director Terence Dermody, M.D., in his opening remarks.

Stephen Harrison, Ph.D., the Giovanni Armenise-Harvard Professor in Basic Biomedical Sciences and director of the Center for Molecular and Cellular Dynamics, Harvard Medical School, kicked off the symposium with a discussion of how rotavirus enters cells.

Rotavirus, the leading single cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children, is a “non-enveloped virus” — it does not have a membrane coating.

How this type of virus moves from one side of the cell membrane to the other is still a puzzle. Harrison and his colleagues have used live cell imaging of viruses with altered proteins to probe models of cell entry.

Peter Palese, Ph.D., Horace W. Goldsmith Professor and Chair, Department of Microbiology, professor, Department of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, whose group “resurrected” the deadly 1918 flu virus for laboratory studies, detailed pandemic influenza viruses and the road towards a universal flu vaccine.

Palese and his team are attempting to develop a flu vaccine that would “last longer so that we don't have to vaccinate every year, and that may even cross-protect against different flu subtypes,” he said.

To do this, the investigators have used an inner, more conserved region of a hemagglutinin protein present on influenza — rather than the more variable outer portions — to construct a novel vaccine. Their construct elicits a protective immune response in mice with broad reactivity against different flu strains.

“I think there is some hope to achieve better vaccines which may last longer and which may go from one subtype to the other,” Palese said.

Diane Griffin, M.D., Ph.D., Alfred and Jill Sommer Professor and Chair, W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, discussed measles and the immune response involved in clearing the virus and providing long-term protection against it.

Rafi Ahmed, Ph.D., Georgia Research Alliance Scholar in Vaccine Research, professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Emory University School of Medicine, rounded out the afternoon with a presentation on the role of the PD-1 (programmed death 1) signaling pathway in regulating immune responses.

The symposium was sponsored by The Elizabeth B. Lamb Center for Pediatric Research and the Vanderbilt Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

The Lamb Center, established in 1990 through the generous support of Mr. and Mrs. George C. Lamb Jr., is an interdisciplinary research unit dedicated to basic research in the molecular pathogenesis of pediatric infectious diseases.

The Center currently houses the laboratories of James Chappell, M.D., Ph.D., Mark Denison, M.D., Terence Dermody, M.D., and Gregory Wilson, M.D.

For a complete schedule of the Discovery Lecture Series and archived video of previous lectures, go to www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/discoveryseries.