Updated January 30 at 7:30pm

Swatting away mosquito-borne viruses

By Richard Asinof
Contributing Writer
In April, after 24 years at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Mass., Dr. Alan L. Rothman left his prestigious research position to join the Institute for Immunology and Informatics, or iCubed, the research component of the University of Rhode Island’s biotechnology program, headquartered in downtown Providence. More

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Focus: HEALTH CARE

Swatting away mosquito-borne viruses

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In April, after 24 years at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Mass., Dr. Alan L. Rothman left his prestigious research position to join the Institute for Immunology and Informatics, or iCubed, the research component of the University of Rhode Island’s biotechnology program, headquartered in downtown Providence.

Rothman brought with him an active, five-year, $11 million research program on dengue fever, funded by the National Institutes for Health. “My work has been in understanding what makes people sick from the dengue fever virus, characterizing the disease and how it affects, both positively and negatively, the immune system,” he said.

His new career path in Providence personifies the auspicious current reality – and the promising future – of the life sciences research sector in the Knowledge District.

Rothman said he was recruited by Dr. Anne De Groot, co-founder of the Institute, and founder and CEO of EpiVax Inc.

“After 24 years, I felt I had gone as far as I could,” Rothman said. “It was time for me to look for different challenges.” The opportunities at iCubed, he continued, are enormous. “We’re at an early stage. It’s a particularly attractive place to work. We’re doing things differently; there’s a more open approach to where this institute may go. There’s lots of building to do, and we’re not limited to where the vision could go.”

The institute, founded in 2008 by DeGroot and Denice Spero, is relatively small, with five faculty members and plans to recruit a sixth, and two technicians, according to Rothman. But it has carved out a research niche focused on newer, safer vaccines and new methods of predicting adverse responses, such as allergies. With these tools, it has the opportunity to teach the next generation of students a new way to design effective vaccines.

Much of the institute’s current work is focused on mosquito-borne tropical diseases. In addition to Rothman’s work on dengue fever, the institute is also working on design of vaccines to protect against potential bio-terror weapons employing Venezuelan, Eastern, and Western Equine Encephalitis viruses. These viruses, due to their relative ease of production, considerable stability and high aerosol infectivity, are the targets of the institute’s next-generation vaccines.

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