Professor Robert K. Ernst—VC of the School’s Department of Microbial Pathogenesis—has completed his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. He has been awarded with a five-year contract worth $6.4 Million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) led by the National Institutes of Health, for developing and verifying new adjuvants to be used in upcoming vaccines. NIAID noted that by the addition of adjuvants to vaccines, the ability of vaccines to induce protection against foreign infectious agent gets enhanced.
Ernst would be the leader of the researchers’ team at the University Of Maryland School Of Dentistry. He will collaborate with Wendy Picking (Ph.D.), Russ Middaugh (Ph.D.)—of the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy,—and two experts with strong industrial backgrounds in development of adjuvants.
Ernst’s research team has developed a number of adjuvants at UMSOD using bacterial enzymatic combinatorial chemistry that will be tested with the protein antigens associated with Yersinia Pestis—plaque causing bacterium—and Shigella—the causative agent of intestinal disease. Along with the testing against antigens, the adjuvants would be tested for dose-sparing capabilities, which could provide better treatment confirmation and reduction in cost.
Ernst said effective adjuvants development would be considerable advancement in the vaccine development sector. When effective adjuvants get adhered to component vaccines, the efficiency of vaccines gets enhanced and can be used to tackle a wide range of pathogens causing infections.
He added that for the development of novel vaccines, it is very important to identify high-quality antigenic targets and then conjugate new or existing adjuvants to the component to enhance their antigenic capacities, such as decreasing dosage number to extract a strong long-term defensive immune response or by reducing the antigen concentration.
Mark A. Reynolds—dean of UMSOD—said that the research pursued by Dr. Ernst and his team has the capability to effectively treat multiple diseases by improving the effectiveness of the existing vaccines.