CEAR – special focus
The Center of Excellence for Antibody Research (CEAR), was founded at FTM in 2009. The goal of the Center is to produce therapeutic products against infectious diseases. The Center currently employs 6 full-time staffs. It is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, including apparatus necessary for flow cytometry, viral culture and real-time PCR. As antibodies are central to the body’s immune defenses against many diseases, CEAR is working on a wide range of diseases. Exciting results produced by the Center have included the development of candidate vaccines and the identification of new antibodies involved with resistance to disease, which both have the potential to be extremely valuable treatment tools for many diseases. This work has been achieved through partnerships with several other international organizations. In recognition of this essential research, CEAR Director, Assoc. Prof. Pongrama Ramasoota recently accepted an award on behalf of the CEAR team. In conjunction with this valuable research, CEAR also provides services for other Departments at FTM.
For their work on projects in 2013, including dengue, influenza, and foot and mouth disease viruses, Dr. Ramasoota and his group received the Outstanding Research Award from the National Research Council of Thailand. The award recognized the Department’s excellent research into the use of monoclonal antibodies in dengue treatment. The award was presented to the center of excellence at a ceremony in June.
Research conducted at CEAR has also been looking at the role of antibodies in the treatment of dengue infections. Several studies into dengue have been completed in the last 12 months, with many interesting findings. One study identified the role of antibody-dependent enhancement in severe cases, which although not yet fully understood may have implications in developing future treatments. Another study mapped human DENV-NS1 epitopes, increasing our understanding of disease pathogenesis. This study also provides a pathway for the development of future drugs or vaccines. In a third study, 19 human MAbs were identified as having neutralizing properties to more than one dengue serotype. This finding will help elucidate the role of certain epitopes associated with the virus. Another group, including staff from CEAR and collaborators from the University of Osaka, has also been studying human monoclonal antibodies (HuMAbs). They identified 17 separate HuMAbs, which showed elevated neutralization activity to all viral serotypes. These HuMAbs were able to almost totally prevent fatalities due to DENV-2 in a murine model, making them very strong candidates for future therapies for dengue virus. The project team has submitted patents for these findings in USA, Australia, India and South East Asian countries, and their ground-breaking findings may have a profound impact on dengue therapeutics in the future. In recognition for their outstanding work, Dr. Ramasoota and his group received the Outstanding Research Award from the National Research Council of Thailand.
CEAR has produced publications in many other areas, as well, as antibodies have potential applications in dealing with many other diseases. One group used a novel MAb to develop a test for foot and mouth disease in livestock. The assay reliably differentiates infected animals from vaccinated ones, and will be very useful in limiting the spread of the disease. A group comprising several CEAR researchers has also investigated treatments for Japanese encephalitis (JE). They found that HuMAbs produced by hybridomas with neutralizing properties against dengue virus were also effective against JE. A group made up of staff from various FTM departments, including Director Ramasoota, also published a paper outlining the efficacy of different treatments on the parasite Schistosoma mansoni. These publications demonstrate the wide range of topics being investigated at CEAR.
The Center also benefits from productive partnerships with several organizations, which are not limited to other Departments at FTM. The Mahidol-Osaka Center for Infectious Diseases, or MOCID, is a collaboration between Mahidol FTM and the Institute for Microbial Diseases at Osaka University, in Japan. CEAR has been a major contributor from FTM in this partnership, and research groups comprising scientists from both organizations have produced 5 publications in the last 12 months. The BIKEN Institute has also contributed to this partnership, helping to fund research into an antibody-expressing dengue vaccine. The Japanese International Cooperation agency (JICA) has also worked with Mahidol, producing several papers through various research projects. This ongoing sharing of knowledge and expertise benefits both sides of the partnership, and is one aspect of research that FTM values very highly.
As well as conducting ground-breaking research into antibody applications in diseases, CEAR provides services and assistance to other departments at FTM. They work closely with the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, and are able to provide dengue virus diagnosis via PCR. In addition to this, the Center can provide services to FTM staff, such as flow cytometry, protein interaction array analysis, and real-time PCR.
Although it has only been operating for 5 years, CEAR has already made many significant contributions to the field. While many different diseases still present significant health problems in Thailand and elsewhere in the world, CEAR’s work to date has been invaluable in improving the treatments and developing possible cures for many of these. The dedication of its staff, as well as their expertise and collaborations, mean that they are well placed to continue these innovations into the future.