Pediatric researcher receives NIH New Innovator Award

By Holly Korschun | Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Oct. 3, 2013

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Tracey Lamb will study a probiotic approach to preventing infections.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has given an NIH New Innovator Award to Tracey Lamb, PhD, assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine and a researcher in the Center for Immunology and Vaccines at Emory and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.  

The awards are given to scientists proposing highly innovative approaches to major contemporary challenges in biomedical research and are part of the NIH Common Fund's High Risk-High Reward Program. The NIH Common Fund supports exceptionally high impact research programs that are broadly relevant to health and disease.  

Lamb has a long-standing interest in diseases of the developing world, where the burden of infection is enormous and is the major contributor to morbidity and mortality, particularly in children. Vaccination is one of the more significant health interventions in terms of protecting humans against mortality and morbidity associated with infectious diseases. However, vaccines are expensive, and require trained medical personnel to administer ­ both roadblocks to vaccine administration in some developing countries.    

The object of Lamb's funded project is to begin to develop yeast as a vaccine delivery system, and in doing so to change the way vaccines are administered, replacing needle stick shots with oral preparations. This approach would have several advantages over current vaccination practices in that it would be inexpensive to manufacture and easy to administer.  

Lamb has designed the system so that the yeast themselves will make the vaccine, reducing the cost. The system also would allow the vaccine to be orally consumed because it will employ a probiotic yeast that is already used in the clinic to treat diarrhea and as a health supplement. The yeast will serve as a capsule to protect the vaccination as it travels through the digestive tract to areas where immune responses can be generated to protect against infections.  

"This award is a great honor," says Lamb, "and will allow my lab to branch out and develop a tool that we hope will provide a cost-effective solution for vaccinating people against infectious diseases in the developing world. We have a long way to go to develop this vaccine delivery system to the point where it is ready for testing in the clinic. Now my lab can undertake more intensive research on this project to demonstrate that our design is effective in protecting against infection."  

The New Innovator Award initiative, established in 2007, supports investigators who are within 10 years of their terminal degree or clinical residency, but who have not yet received an R01 or equivalent NIH grant.  

"An orally administered vaccine that can prevent a variety of serious infections will be a major breakthrough," says Paul Spearman, MD, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Emory and chief research officer for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "This project represents a creative and unique approach to vaccine design that is being pursued by a very promising young investigator."  

The grant application was made possible due to seed funding from the Center for Immunology and Vaccines at Emory and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.