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Release: Nov. 4, 1999

UI receives $4.7 million to study immune responses to microbial infection

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Department of Internal Medicine has received a five-year, $4.7 million grant to investigate innate immune response to microbial infection.

The cooperative, interdisciplinary studies involve researchers from the departments of internal medicine and microbiology. The investigators will look specifically at meningitis caused by the bacterium serogroup B of Neisseria meningitidis.

Meningitis is an infection or inflammation of the meninges (the lining around the brain and spinal column) and can be caused by various infectious agents, including viruses, bacteria and fungi. In most cases of meningococcal infection, N. meningitidis is spread from person to person by a respiratory route. In some individuals, the organism invades the bloodstream, causing an infection known as meningococcemia. Bacterial meningitis and meningococcemia are serious diseases which, left untreated, can progress relatively rapidly to cause severe brain or other organ damage or death.

Meningococcal disease in general, and meningitis in particular, has very high morbidity and mortality rates even when treated with appropriate antibiotics. Although very effective vaccines are available for most common strains of meningococci that cause meningitis, currently no effective human vaccine exists for the serogroup B, said principal investigator William M. Nauseef, M.D., UI professor of internal medicine and member of the UI Inflammation Program.

In addition to Nauseef, the other UI study leaders include Michael Apicella, M.D., professor and head of microbiology, and Jerrold Weiss, Ph.D., professor of internal medicine and microbiology.

The UI-based research team, through a number of individual projects, plan to examine fundamental aspects of the early interaction of meningococci with components of the host’s immune system.

"There are several clinical reasons why we chose to look at the fundamental biology of host response to this particular organism," Nauseef said. "However, we are confident that the lessons we learn from the meningococcus will in turn advance our understanding of other microbe-host defense interactions as well, thus contributing to the control of disease and the improvement of health."

The grant comes from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health. Funding support began September 30.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.