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NIAID Research on Plague

NIAID conducts and supports research on the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of infections caused by microbes, including those that have the potential for use as biological weapons. The research program to address biodefense includes both short- and long-term studies targeted at designing, developing, evaluating, and approving specific tools (diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines) needed to defend against possible bioterrorist-caused disease outbreaks.

For instance, NIAID-supported investigators sequenced the genome of the strain of Yersinia pestis that was associated with the second pandemic of plague, including the Black Death. This will provide a valuable research resource to scientists for identifying new targets for vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics for this deadly pathogen.

NIAID-funded scientists have developed a rapid diagnostic test for pneumonic plague that can be used in most hospitals. This will allow healthcare providers to quickly identify and isolate the pneumonic plague patient from other patients and enable healthcare providers to use appropriate precautions to protect themselves.

Many other plague research projects at NIAID are focusing on early-stage vaccine development, therapeutics, and diagnostics. Y. pestis bacterium is a high priority with funded efforts ranging from basic science research to final product development.

Current research projects include

  • Identifying genes in Y. pestis that infect the digestive tract of fleas and researching how the bacteria are transferred to humans
  • Studying the disease-causing proteins and genes of Y. pestis that allow the bacteria to grow in humans and learning how they function in human lungs

NIAID is also working with the U.S. Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Energy to

  • Develop a vaccine that protects against inhalationally acquired pneumonic plague
  • Develop promising antibiotics and intervention strategies to treat and prevent plague infection

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Last Updated May 20, 2015