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2009 Grants - Pankiewicz
Passive Immunization for Prion Infections
Joanna Pankiewicz, M.D., Ph.D.
New York University School of Medicine
New York, New York
2009 New Investigator Research Grant
Prion diseases are a group of progressive, neurodegenerative disorders believed to be caused by unusual infectious agents, known as prions. Prions are modified versions of a normal protein found on the surface of nerve cells. By mechanisms that are not well understood, prions develop the ability to infect new organisms, copy themselves, and eventually infect the brain. At this time, there are no established therapies for any prion diseases.
Current evidence suggests that prions replicate in parts of the lymphatic system before infecting the brain. Joanna Pankiewicz, M.D., Ph.D. and colleagues are studying ways to inactivate prions in the lymphatic system before they infect the brain. The researchers have shown that specific antibodies against the prion protein can remove the infection from cells grown in culture. They have also obtained preliminary evidence that injection of antibodies into infected mice can suppress the activity of prion proteins and prolong survival.
Dr. Pankiewicz and colleagues plan to conduct detailed studies of antibodies and immunization procedures aimed at preventing prion infection of the brain. They will study the pharmacologic properties of anti-prion antibodies in mice to determine the optimal dose and timing of administration. The researchers will also study the duration of therapy required to prevent brain infection. These studies of anti-prion antibodies in mice could provide an important foundation for clinical trials of these potential therapies in humans.