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Broad Lab to Sequence Lassa Viruses for NIAID

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - The Broad Institute at Harvard and MIT will use funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to conduct whole-genome sequencing of the virus that causes Lassa fever, an acute hemorrhagic fever endemic in West Africa that is being watched by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a potential bioterrorism threat.

The rat-borne Lassa virus kills between 15 and 20 percent of people who are hospitalized with the fever, according to CDC. During epidemics, however, the fatality rate can reach 50 percent.

Broad researchers in the lab of Pardis Sabeti, an assistant professor at the Center for Systems Biology at Harvard, will use around $1.5 million in funding over five years to conduct whole-genome sequencing of hundreds and thousands of Lassa genomes, Sabeti told GenomeWeb Daily News today in an e-mail.

The funding from NIAID is part of a collaboration with Tulane University, which received a $15 million grant to study the virus and develop new therapeutics to treat and prevent the sickness it causes.

Aside from the Sabeti lab, other partners in the Tulane-led Lassa project include Scripps Research Institute, the University of California at San Diego, Boston University, Autoimmune Partners, Corgenix Medical Corp., as well as partners in West Africa.

The $15 million grant to Tulane is the third grant it has received for its ongoing Lassa studies.

"The diagnostic products we have developed have been shown to be remarkably effective in clinical settings in Africa, and will not only have a meaningful impact on health care in that part of the world, but will also fill a critical gap in bioterrorism defense," Robert Garry, a Tulane professor and program manager on the contract, said in a statement.

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