New York Medical College

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New infectious diseases are emerging and spreading, even as vaccines and other treatments have all but conquered many other well-known infections like measles and polio.

 

The World Health Organization lists nearly 40 diseases existing today that were unknown almost a generation ago. Some blame the emergence of new infections on overuse of antibiotics, while others blame “super bugs” and even enhanced global travel. But the fact remains, doctors are finding it harder to control certain types of infections.

New York Medical College has stepped up to play a leading role in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of infectious diseases, supported by funding from the NIH and other sources, and driven by the cooperative efforts and expertise found in all three schools.

College researchers are addressing Lyme disease by developing new, improved diagnostic tests and, in a truly ingenious approach, a vaccine for wildlife that carry the spirochete that causes Lyme disease.

A top-flight team of experts in the study of tick-borne diseases is led by Gary P. Wormser, M.D., chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and professor of medicine. Dr. Wormser, who is also chief of Infectious Diseases at Westchester Medical Center, is an expert on Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis. His interest in infectious diseases goes back much further: in 1981, he and colleagues wrote the first paper on AIDS to appear in a scientific journal, and he has spoken on the use of smallpox and other deadly viruses as bioterrorist weapons.

Ira Schwartz, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, also specializes in Lyme disease research and collaborates with Dr. Wormser to provide the basic science for Dr. Wormser’s clinical studies. In collaboration with Raymond Dattwyler, M.D., professor of microbiology and immunology, Dr. Schwartz is using techniques of molecular biology to create a more accurate Lyme disease test that is based on genetics rather than presence of antibodies.

Raymond Dattwyler, M.D., professor of medicine and of microbiology and immunology, is approaching the problem from a unique perspective: a vaccine used to treat the wildlife that carry infected deer ticks, the Lyme disease vector. Since there is no human vaccine against the disease, Dr. Dattwyler’s approach is to develop an oral wildlife “bait vaccine,” designed to control B. burgdorferi, the Lyme disease bacteria, where it originates—in ticks that bite humans.

Not to be overlooked is influenza, which periodically raises the specter of the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919. Vaccine shortages in recent years, as well as growing concerns about anti-viral drug resistance, have scientists industriously working to develop components of the vaccine that must be newly developed each year for use in the U.S. and abroad.

A key investigator in the development of effective influenza vaccine is Doris L. Bucher, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology. Each year her lab takes flu strains sent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), grows them in culture and produces high-growth vaccine strains by shuffling the gene pieces in a process called reassortment. The reassortant viruses are then sent to pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the vaccines. This year, the strain created by Dr. Bucher’s lab—NYMC X-175C—comprises the H3N2 component that will go into the influenza vaccine, with 145 million doses destined for the U.S.

Toxoplasmosis Research:

Dana G. Mordue Ph.D., assistant professor, studies the model intracellular protozoa Toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis. Twenty percent of the U.S. population have been infected and carry the cyst form of the parasite in tissues including the brain, central nervous system and smooth muscle, but infection is usually asymptomatic unless the individual is immune compromised. That’s why it was one of the leading causes of death and blindness for patients with AIDS prior to retroviral therapy. Dr. Mordue’s group is investigating novel molecular mechanisms used by this intracellular pathogen to subvert the host innate immune response and to adapt to changes in the microenvironment during infection. The team utilizes genetic and global microarray-based approaches to identify parasite genes that are differentially regulated by the host’s innate immune response during infection.

Public Health Research:

The New York Medical College School of Health Sciences and Practice continues to cultivate a growing record of public service in combating infectious diseases.

In New York’s Hudson Valley, for example, county health departments play a major role in detecting disease early and containing infectious before they are allowed to spread widely. Recent disease control successes have included control of mumps and pertussis (whooping cough), cryptosporidium, norovirus, and an array of food-borne and water-borne infectious agents.

For a population that seems to face a new or newly diagnosed infectious disease on a regular basis, it should be comforting to know that someone is watching the store. Indeed, seven health commissioners or directors from nearby counties are faculty members and nine serve on the school’s Public Health Practice Council.