Alan Aderem

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Seattle Biomed pioneering ‘rational’ approach to vaccines | 

Early anti-vaccine hysteria. Cartoon of Edward Jenner administering cowpox vaccine to frightened young women, and cows emerging from different parts of people's bodies.
Early anti-vaccine hysteria. Cartoon of Edward Jenner administering cowpox vaccine to frightened young women, and cows emerging from different parts of people’s bodies.
Wikipedia, James Gilray

Vaccines are widely, legitimately, hailed as one of medicine’s most powerful weapons in the fight against infectious disease. Millions of lives are saved, deaths prevented, every year using this simple tool that can cost as little as a handful of pennies.

Holy bang for the buck, batman!

So it’s unfortunate we know so little about how vaccines actually work. Not knowing has spawned a persistent anti-vaccine movement by those who fear, based on little hard evidence, the potential for harm caused by tweaking our immune system.

But not knowing is also causing some problems for the biomedical community.

“I don’t see how we’re going to ever develop effective vaccines against AIDS, TB or malaria without first gaining a lot more insight into how the immune system works – and how vaccines promote immunity,” said Alan Aderem, president of Seattle Biomed, a research organization that has been working on matters of global health since Bill Gates was a teenager. Continue reading

Using supercomputers to find vaccines against malaria, AIDS and TB | 

Flickr, ghinson

Scientists in Seattle hope to pioneer a more “rational” approach to vaccine development, exploiting powerful computers to better identify immune system targets and reduce the huge burden (and cost) of clinical testing.

“I intend to focus first on malaria vaccines,” said Alan Aderem, an internationally recognized immunologist who will soon be taking the helm of Seattle BioMed. Aderem co-authored a paper in this week’s edition of Nature in which he outlines a new strategy aimed at discovering vaccines against HIV, TB and malaria.

Arguably, the ways in which researchers test and develop vaccines against disease today haven’t changed that much since the 18-century British physician Edward Jenner injected a young man with cowpox to see if it would protect him from smallpox. It did and, so the story goes, vaccines and the science of immunology were born.

Scientists certainly have more sophisticated tools and methods today, but testing a vaccine is still often a “shot in the dark” because of our incomplete understanding of how the immune response works. Continue reading

Seattle Biomed gets $9m from Gates to boost malaria vaccine work | 

Luke Timmerman of Xconomy reports today that Seattle Biomed, a global leader in malaria research thanks to funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has gotten a boost.

In the article, Timmerman notes that the $9 million grant is aimed at supporting a “systems biology” approach to identify new immune system targets for candidate vaccines. In that sense, it is also a Gates grant aimed at supporting the work of Alan Aderem, who is moving his lab there from Lee Hood’s Institute for Systems Biology:

Seattle Biomed made a push in the direction of systems biology—which seeks to study whole biological organisms in context, rather than one gene or protein in isolation—last month. The nonprofit recruited Aderem, the co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology, to help infuse its global health research efforts with this bold brand of science.

New scientific talent, and leadership, part of expansion plan at Seattle Biomed | 

ISB

Alan Aderem

Alan Aderem, an internationally recognized immunologist who helped gene-sequencing pioneer Leroy Hood launch a “systems biology” firm in Seattle 15 years ago, is transferring his research program from Hood’s operation to Seattle Biomed.

Aderem is expected, in less than a year, to also take the helm of this organization, which is one of the region’s leading global health firms as well as one of the world’s leading malaria vaccine research institutions.

As the Seattle Times’ Kristi Heim reports, Aderem and 42 researchers are leaving the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) to come join Seattle Biomed as part of a planned expansion funded by a $7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Heim writes:

Seattle BioMed said Aderem will bring a new approach to its infectious-disease research and integrate his expertise in systems biology to speed the pace of new vaccines and drugs to fight HIV, malaria and other diseases.

That new approach is the “systems biology” approach, a buzzword that typically refers to the marriage of sophisticated computational analysis with molecular biology and genome science techniques. Here’s a (somewhat skeptical) story I wrote — before I worked for KPLU — from a meeting last year at ISB in which they made the case for what systems biology can bring to global health.

Founding President Ken Stuart, who launched the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute out of strip mall office in the late 1970s, will step down but remain president emeritus and on the board of directors. Here is Seattle Biomed’s press release.

Stuart’s story is an amazing tale of perseverance based on his stubborn desire to create a research organization here devoted to neglected diseases in poor countries.

Support from the Gates Foundation has allowed Seattle Biomed to grow rapidly in the last few years, but it wouldn’t be here if not for decades of work by Stuart who pursued these problems long before global health was sexy.