An infusion of funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) made possible by the Recovery Act will allow a West Virginia University researcher to intensify his long-running study of how cells in the intestines react to viruses.

Christopher Cuff, Ph.D., of the WVU School of Medicine, has been studying the immune response of cells on the inner lining of the intestines of mice since the early 1990s. The immune response in the intestines is the body’s strongest line of defense against water- and food-borne disease – and in humans, 80 percent of such diseases are caused by viruses.

From 1992 to 2005, the NIH funded Cuff’s lab with a series of grants. The project was fruitful, resulting in more than a dozen published research papers that advanced scientific understanding of how viruses affect the intestines. It contributed to the completion of four Ph.D. degrees by students in his lab. But the expiration of the last grant in 2005 put this set of studies on the back burner, at least temporarily.

The Recovery Act funds will allow Cuff to return to unanswered questions in the study of intestinal viruses. The infusion of new funds will allow him to add two researchers in his lab.
“We’re testing a very common virus, one that almost everyone is exposed to early in life,” Cuff said. “It doesn’t cause disease, but when you are first exposed to it, your body creates an immune response that can be detected with a blood test. As adults we are re-exposed to it regularly, but the immunity we develop early on keeps it from replicating in the intestine. Because of that, it’s a very useful model for these types of studies.”

The results will help scientists who are working to develop oral vaccines against viruses.

“There’s a qualitative difference in the immune response when we eat a vaccine rather than having it injected into the bloodstream,” Cuff said. “Understanding the immune response mechanism in the intestines may contribute to the study of such diseases as inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies and even asthma.”

The NIH will provide $402,875 for the research over the next two years.


For More Information:
Andrea Brunais, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087