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Detection & Prevention
CHORI Welcomes New Principal Investigator

CHORI is pleased to announce the addition of a new assistant scientist, Angelle Desiree LaBeaud, MD, MS. Joining the Center for Vaccine Development and Immunobiology, Dr. LaBeaud focuses her research on arboviral epidemiology in Kenya - or, in other words, mosquito-borne viruses or arboviruses.

"I did some clinical work in southeast Asia during a Dengue Fever outbreak. I was just stunned by the devastation that one mosquito-borne virus could cause, and that has been my focus ever since."

Commonly known arboviruses include St. Louis encephalitis virus or West Nile virus, although Dr. LaBeaud's main interest is in Rift Valley fever virus. Like other arboviruses, Rift Valley fever virus may impact many people each year, but the true health burden is as of yet unknown, because the tools needed to accurately and rapidly diagnose Rift Valley Fever don't yet exist.

"Outbreaks occur sporadically," explains Dr. LaBeaud. "We already know that Rift Valley fever is tied to El Nino events - it rains a lot, infected eggs then bloom, those mosquitoes infect the livestock, and then other mosquitoes carry the virus from infected livestock to humans. In between outbreaks, people are getting infected at low levels, however, and it's going unnoticed."

This is in part because the infections occur in remote communities in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa. But it is also because there aren't any field tests to accurately identify the infections even when they are noticed.

"There is a wide spectrum of clinical presentation, and the symptoms can look a lot like many other infections, such as malaria or other viral diseases."
As a result, Dr. LaBeaud has made it one of her primary research goals to develop quick and easy diagnostic tests that can be used to identify when Rift Valley fever is circulating - both to uncover the actual burden of disease, and to be able to prevent small numbers of cases from becoming epidemics.

"There are many avenues to prevent a human outbreak, but the opportunities are most often missed," says Dr. LaBeaud.

"We have effective animal vaccines, we have sprays to kill the mosquitoes, but humans end up being the canary in the coal mine instead. By the time you have people dying from hemorrhagic fever from Rift Valley fever, you have to have had hundreds or thousands of people infected."
As Dr. LaBeaud points out, "You're far too behind to prevent disease with vaccination, instead you're just doing what you can to kill the mosquitoes and treat people who are sick. We need early warning systems, diagnostic tests that work in the field and the lab, and improved communication between animal and human clinicians."

In addition to developing diagnostic tools for the field, Dr. LaBeaud is also interested in basic immunologic and genetic questions related to the variation in clinical presentation.

"Rift Valley fever can cause a wide variety of disease, from someone having an infection with minimal symptoms like fever, to life-long neurologic disability and death," explains Dr. LaBeaud. "So the question is, Why do most people with Rift Valley fever just have a fever, while a few unlucky people end up dying from hemorrhagic fever or blind or with brain infections, neurologically compromised for the rest of their lives? Why is that? I want to find out the answers."

With all the resources CHORI can provide on hand, as well as the strength of its basic, clinical and translational research programs, Dr. LaBeaud will during her tenure here hopefully succeed in both answering these larger questions, and in developing the tools needed to rapidly detect and prevent outbreaks of Rift Valley fever and other arboviral diseases.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:19 AM

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