Rochester Bird-Flu Expert to Testify Before Congress

January 22, 2007

Infectious disease expert John Treanor, M.D., will testify before a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Wednesday about the threat of a bird flu pandemic.

Treanor, professor of Medicine and of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, will speak about the status of research aimed at developing an effective vaccine against bird flu. Other speakers at the session, which was called by Senator Tom Harkin, who is chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, will include:

  • Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
  • Julie Gerberding, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Gerald Parker, Ph.D., principal deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response, Department of Health and Human Services

Treanor is playing a pivotal role in international efforts to develop an effective vaccine against the most threatening form of bird flu, known as the H5N1 virus. He is currently taking part in five studies that address a variety of issues, including vaccine safety, the potential effectiveness of a booster shot, the response of the elderly to the vaccine, and whether an additive might boost the effectiveness of a vaccine.

Last year he announced results from two important national studies that he led. In March his team showed that an experimental vaccine is effective, but only at very high doses. Later in the year his team showed that an initial priming shot given in advance of a booster shot might be an effective way to protect people against bird flu.

The research comes through Treanor’s role as director of the University’s Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit, or VTEU, part of a Federally funded network of seven centers that the nation relies on to protect its citizens against infectious threats. Because of the role of the Rochester VTEU testing vaccines, more people in Rochester have been immunized against bird flu than in nearly any other community in the world.

Treanor has long been recognized as a lead researcher on the “regular” flu also. In 2004, in the face of a flu vaccine shortage, the Federal government turned to Treanor to lead a crucial study to assess the safety and effectiveness of a flu vaccine used in other parts of the world but not in the United States. Thanks to the quick turnaround, the vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States, offering the nation an additional source of vaccine and helping to avert another shortage.

This isn’t the first time Treanor has been tapped to lead crucial research to protect the health of U.S. citizens. Shortly after the 9/11 tragedy in 2001, the Federal government called on Treanor to lead a landmark study to see if the supply of smallpox vaccine could be stretched, in case it became necessary to resurrect that vaccine in the face of the surging bioterror threat. Thanks to his efforts, within two months a large study was underway which ultimately confirmed that the smallpox vaccine could be diluted and still provide protection, thus dramatically boosting the number of people who would be protected in the face of a smallpox threat.

In recent years several University faculty members have been asked to testify before Congress. They include Provost Charles Phelps, Ph.D., who testified about patent reform before the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property; and pediatric neurologist Gary Myers, M.D., who testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works about the effects of mercury on health.

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