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  January 28, 2002

Vaccine Research Will Receive Federal Funds
Jane Shaskan

Research by Health Center scientists into some of the world's most dangerous diseases, such as the West Nile Virus, dengue fever, and Lyme disease, will receive $2.5 million in federal funds.

The funding was announced Jan. 16 at a press conference, by U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-6th District), who helped secure the funding, along with other members of Connecticut's House and Senate delegation. The Health Center is located in Johnson's district.

The money will be used to accelerate and broaden the scope of research at the Health Center aimed at producing vaccines against the many infectious diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks.

"The research conducted here at the University of Connecticut Health Center will help protect our troops abroad and citizens at home from some of the world's deadliest diseases," said Johnson. "I will continue to work in Congress to ensure that our scientists have the proper funding to conduct their invaluable studies."

Faculty member Stephen Wikel, an international expert on microbial immunology, is seeking to develop vaccines that would block the transmission of disease by neutralizing the molecules in mosquito and tick saliva.

"These funds are a needed boost to our program," Wikel said. "Progress will be made in this important research."

The incidence of the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus has greatly increased over the last few years. What was once a rare occurrence has now become commonplace during the summer months in the Northeast. In addition, there are scores of new cases of Lyme disease. Connecticut has the highest incidence of Lyme disease per capita in the United States.

The new funding will promote research into ways to block the transmission of these diseases when mosquitoes and ticks bite humans. It will help pay for equipment for sophisticated molecular research, recruit scientists, providing training opportunities, and strengthen collaboration between Connecticut scientists and some of the leading authorities on these diseases around the world.

The research will also seek to block the transmission of other deadly diseases, such as dengue fever and tick-borne encephalitis. The incidence of the mosquito-borne dengue fever is also on the increase. According to the World Health Organization, dengue fever has been reported in over 100 countries and 50 million cases develop annually. The flu-like illness, which can be fatal, is characterized by fever, headaches, and rashes.

The research under way is of particular interest to U.S. troops abroad, who are exposed to the mosquitoes and ticks that carry these deadly diseases.

Peter J. Deckers, executive vice president for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine said, "Congresswoman Johnson has always been an ardent supporter, and we are grateful for her efforts in helping us secure these funds."