Awards, Honors, and Grants

October 06, 2021

Wesemann Receives NIAID Funding for Pan-Coronavirus Vaccine Project, NIH Director's Award

Duane Wesemann, MD, PhD

Duane Wesemann, MD, PhD, of the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, received two awards through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the NIH, awarded funding for Wesemann to lead a Program Project (P01) grant titled “Discovering Durable Pan-Coronavirus Immunity,” which will support a program involving investigators at the Brigham, Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University and La Jolla Institute of Immunology to develop a pan-coronavirus vaccine. Separately, Wesemann received an NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award for work to develop a new platform for vaccine development.

As part of the NIAID-funded work on a pan-coronavirus vaccine, Wesemann and a multidisciplinary team will collect samples from people who have been infected with or vaccinated against COVID-19 to identify immunological features that may confer the broadest possible immunity against coronaviruses and variants. The team will conduct research to identify pieces of SARS-CoV-2 that may be conserved across other coronaviruses, and they will study the effectiveness of antibodies and T cell activity against these regions. Finally, the team will use animal models to test immunization strategies, determining the optimal parameters for dosing, delivery and other factors that may influence a broad response. 

The award is funded by NIAID’s Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases and its Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation through the Emergency Awards Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) on Pan-Coronavirus Vaccine Development Program Projects. The awards are intended to foster research on vaccines that can confer broad protective immunity against coronaviruses, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV).

Supported by an NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award, Wesemann will also pursue a new vaccine-creation technology referred to as “flipped germinal centers.” Modern approaches to make more difficult vaccines, such as a vaccine for HIV or a universal flu vaccine, use mutated versions of viral proteins designed to elicit specific antibodies with known qualities, but traditional methods to achieve this are laborious and time-consuming. Wesemann’s goal is to accelerate vaccine discovery by genetically engineering flipped germinal center mice that can run the immune response in reverse. Instead of the normal direction of an immune response, where a viral protein drives the evolution of antibody responses, flipped germinal center mice can be given the desired antibodies as a starting point to drive the evolution of ideal viral protein variants. These proteins can then be tested to determine if they can better elicit the desired antibody responses when used in the conventional forward vaccine-to-antibody-response direction. 

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