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$3 Million NIH Grant to Further College of Medicine Rockford Researcher’s Vaccine for Lymphatic Filariasis

Dr. Ramaswamy Kalyanasundaram

Study will develop a vaccine for preventing a disabling infectious disease that affects millions around the world

A University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford researcher and his collaborator at PAI Life Sciences Inc. received a three-year grant totaling $3 million from the National Institutes of Health that will advance promising research into a vaccine for the mosquito-borne illness lymphatic filariasis.

Around the world, millions of people are at risk for getting this infection caused by parasitic worms, Wuchereria Bancrofti, spread by mosquitoes. Children are often affected and don’t have symptoms for many years until the body’s lymph system is affected, which can cause significant swelling to certain body parts and hardening and thickening of the skin that results in elephantiasis, named for the similarity to an elephant’s skin. According to the World Health Organization, in 2000 over 120 million people were infected and about 40 million people were disfigured and incapacitated by the disease. This disabling and disfiguring disease is rare in the U.S., but has significant impact in more than 49 countries where annual chemotherapy treatments for susceptible populations are the major defense against the spread of the disease and only a few drug treatments are available.

This new study will allow researchers to assess a new way to stop the spread of the disease with a vaccine that will actually prevent the parasite from being able to live in a person’s body. Based on previous research that shows promise that a vaccine could successfully prevent a similar parasite that causes heartworms in dogs, this research will study a similar vaccine – called LFGuardTM – that could give hope for a way to prevent lymphatic filariasis to millions of people across the globe.

Ramaswamy Kalyanasundaram, DVM, head and professor of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford, is a principal investigator for the study along with Darrick Albert Carter, PhD, of PAI Life Sciences in Seattle, Wash.

“We are excited to begin clinical trials of this vaccine,” says Kalyanasundaram. “This is the next step in ensuring the safety and efficacy of this vaccine, which we’ve been developing here in Rockford for many years.”

Kalyanasundaram joined the faculty of the UICOMR in 1993 and, in addition to his own laboratory research, oversees other biomedical research and the Master of Science in Medical Biotechnology Program at the UIC Health Sciences Campus-Rockford at 1601 Parkview Ave.

Research reported here was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R44AI140708. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.