Pitt's Regional Biocontainment Laboratory Gets $1.9 Million to Study Rift Valley Fever

Issue Date: 
October 11, 2010

The University of Pittsburgh Regional Biocontainment Laboratory  (RBL) has received a $1.9 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to explore long-sought treatments for Rift Valley Fever (RVF), which poses significant risks to U.S. military and civilian populations as a potential agent of biowarfare.

The contract from the DOD's Defense Threat Reduction Agency will enable researchers to explore the biological processes that underlie disease caused by the RVF virus, a fever-causing viral disease that affects humans and domestic animals, such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels.

“RVF is a serious threat because it can spread very quickly through both animal and human populations,” said Amy L. Hartman, principal investigator of the project, RBL research manager and research instructor in the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health's Department of Infectious Disease and Microbiology.  “Epidemics have already occurred in Africa and Saudi Arabia, and the virus can potentially spread to the United States.”

Throughout the three-year project, Hartman and her team, including Doug Reed, RBL aerobiology manager and coinvestigator on the contract, will develop animal models of RVF that will mimic the disease seen in humans. “This research should help us understand more about how the virus causes disease in animals after respiratory infection, with the eventual goal of developing drugs or vaccines that can offer wide-reaching protection to populations at risk,” she said.

The Center for Vaccine Research (CVR) at the University houses both the RBL, which is celebrating its second anniversary this month, and the Vaccine Research Laboratory. Researchers at the CVR develop new methods and strategies to prevent and treat infectious diseases, potentially improving and protecting global health.