Public Release:  UTSA/UTHSCSA publish results on bio-threat agent

Researchers find mast cells play a role in assisting immune system to combat tularemia

University of Texas at San Antonio

San Antonio (June 30, 2008) - Researchers at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) have identified a cell type believed to play a role in controlling the early infectious process against Francisella tularensis, a respiratory pathogen and bioterrorism agent that is the cause of tularemia. The findings will be released this week in a journal article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The organism is considered to be a life-threatening bioterrorism agent by the Centers for Disease Control. Tularemia is an illness caused primarily by bites or scratches from rabbits, rodents and hares. In most cases, the bacterium causes relatively benign fever, chills and headaches that can be treated with antibiotics. However, when spread by aerosol, the organism can cause severe respiratory illness and systemic infections and is associated with a 30-40 percent mortality rate.

"We have found that mast cells, historically associated with allergic conditions and asthma, may also be involved in priming innate and adaptive immunity against tularemia," said Bernard Arulanandam, UTSA College of Sciences immunologist and associate professor of biology. "Our studies show that mast cells can interact with other cells and control the number of bacteria that replicate. This opens up a new dimension into how we look at mast cells against this organism, Francisella tularensis."

In 2005, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded UTSA's South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases a five-year $6.4 million grant to study tularemia.

Collaborators in the published study include Jyothi Ketavarapu, Annette Rodriguez, Karl Klose, Neal Guentzel, Thomas Forsthuber, Jieh-Juen Yu, Yu Cong, Ashlesh Murthy, and Bernard Arulanandam at UTSA, and Mike Berton with The UTHSCSA.

"I think this journal article shows the quality of the researchers that we have managed to attract to UTSA and we should be proud that important research is taking place on our campus as opposed to at a medical school someplace else," said Karl Klose, executive director of the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases. "This is really a move in the right direction towards developing this university into a premier research institution."

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Comprised of 19 research teams led by College of Sciences faculty, the STCEID is one of the leading emerging infectious disease research centers in the country, generating more than $10 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health and private organizations since opening in 2005. STCEID research focuses on critical areas of human health including anthrax, tularemia, cholera, Lyme disease, desert valley fever and other bacterial and fungal diseases.

STCEID's advanced research laboratories on the UTSA 1604 Campus are in the Biosciences Building, Margaret Batts Tobin Laboratory Building and the Biotechnology, Sciences and Engineering Building. Included in the facilities are two high-level containment biosafety level-three (BSL-3) laboratories for infectious agents research. For more information visit, http://www.stceid.utsa.edu/

The University of Texas at San Antonio is one of the fastest growing higher education institutions in Texas and the second largest of nine academic universities and six health institutions in the UT System. As a multicultural institution of access and excellence, UTSA aims to be a premier public research university providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.

UTSA serves more than 28,500 students in 64 bachelor's, 44 master's and 20 doctoral degree programs in the colleges of Architecture, Business, Education and Human Development, Engineering, Honors, Liberal and Fine Arts, Public Policy, Sciences and Graduate School. Founded in 1969, UTSA is an intellectual and creative resource center and a socioeconomic development catalyst for Texas and beyond.

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