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American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)

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NIAID and ARRA Support Young Researcher’s Search for a Better Flu Vaccine

photo of David Lewis and Crystal Botham
Dr. Crystal Botham and her advisor, Dr. David Lewis. Credit: Jonathan Rabinovitz, Stanford University School of Medicine
An important focus of NIAID funding is support for young researchers who are just getting their start in professional laboratories. Funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 have allowed NIAID to offer even more opportunities for young scientists to further their research. For Crystal Botham, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Stanford University laboratory of David B. Lewis, M.D., an ARRA-funded NIAID grant has guaranteed another year of training and of research in pursuit of better influenza vaccines.

More Research, Less Grant Writing

A postdoctoral fellowship is the first step toward a prestigious and productive career as an independent scientist. It entails years of intensive study and laboratory training. Because funding is hard to obtain, a fellowship also entails spending precious time applying for additional grants to finance salary and research costs.

Thanks to her ARRA-funded grant, Dr. Botham can focus her time on her research. Her support comes from an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA), which helps postdoctoral fellows pay for living expenses during their training experience. The funds pay a portion of her salary, as well as some healthcare, conference-related, and lab supply costs.

“The ARRA-funded NRSA fellowship enables me to focus on my research goals and training experiences, instead of searching for funding to support my studies,” she says. “Additionally, beyond the financial support, the distinction of obtaining an NRSA fellowship will affect my career in a positive way.”

Building a Better Flu Shot

Dr. Botham studies an adjuvant, a type of vaccine additive, that could help boost the protective effect of the seasonal flu shot. Adjuvants are important because they help generate a more vigorous immune response to a vaccine.

Adjuvants also can help address the ever-changing nature of influenza viruses. Because flu strains constantly mutate, drug companies must reformulate the seasonal flu shot each year to match the strains that researchers predict will circulate. Sometimes, a flu strain emerges that was not predicted, making the vaccine less effective.

Dr. Botham investigates the stimulatory effects to the immune system of a novel adjuvant called CLDC. Her work may contribute to the design of a more effective seasonal flu vaccine that provides protection from a wide variety of flu strains, even those not matched by the original vaccine. Such a vaccine also could protect people for longer than a single flu season, potentially eliminating the need for a yearly, reformulated flu shot.

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Last Updated November 02, 2009