Benaroya Research Institute Identifies and Follows Emerging Infectious Diseases with New Methods

Seattle, WA

BRI Receives $5.3 Million from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Seattle — Aug.1, 2011— New efforts to improve global health will be launched by Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) with a $5.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Using novel blood profiling technologies, BRI will study emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases that affect millions worldwide.

“We can study the blood of the people who have symptoms of infectious diseases and use biomarkers to accomplish several things,” said Damien Chaussabel, PhD, director, Systems Immunology Division at BRI. “We can use the markers to determine the type of the disease that sometimes is hard to diagnose. We can also determine the severity of the disease and whether treatments are working. This will help to triage the patients needing more or different treatment or even hospitalization. We can also learn about emerging epidemics and how diseases can spread.

“We use new cutting-edge technologies that provide great benefits. First, they are fast — the test results can be obtained in a few hours rather than the usual 24 to 48 hours. Second, they are sensitive — they can identify the disease even when it is no longer present in the bloodstream. Third, they can predict disease severity and predict outcome. Fourth, they are cost effective. Another benefit is the test is easy to do in the field with just a couple drops of blood,” explains Chaussabel.

BRI and collaborators will be studying three different infectious diseases that constitute significant public health burdens in three distinct geographical areas:

Sepsis Diseases, Thailand — Sepsis bacteria cause a disease called melioidosis in humans and animals in areas of Southeast Asia and Northern Australia. The disease can be reactivated in people who survive it even a decade later. It can cause pneumonia and mimic other infectious diseases. BRI’s proposed rapid diagnosis test would enable early therapy with the appropriate antibiotics, potentially decreasing deaths from the disease.

Diarrheal Diseases, Mexico — Diarrheal diseases remain one of the most important public health challenges worldwide, mainly affecting the pediatric population in developing countries where death and illness rates are high. In industrial countries diarrheal diseases caused by viruses, such as rotavirus and norovirus, and bacteria, such as salmonella and E. coli, have a significant impact on health and medical care costs. In Mexico, diarrheal diseases are among the five most common causes of death among children younger than 5 years old. There is a significant need to develop a specific and rapid diagnostic to distinguish the type of infection and the severity. This would allow children to be treated appropriately and quickly.

Fevers of Unknown Origin, Macedonia — The infectious disease called brucellosis usually has no specific symptoms. High-risk areas include the Mediterranean countries, South and Central America, Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, Caribbean and the Middle East. Diagnosis is difficult and scientists will work to develop a novel, specific and rapid diagnostic test for brucellosis that will bring significant advantages for prompt identification of infected individuals both in cases of naturally occurring infections as well as in a potential biothreat situation.

BRI scientists and collaborators have been able to demonstrate white blood cells carry “signatures” that can be used to discriminate between different types of infectious diseases. They analyze the patterns of these blood signatures to select the ones of key importance so a diagnosis can be made more quickly and accurately than through traditional means. In some cases, diseases that cannot be clearly diagnosed can be pinpointed through this new method. The data can also be used to assess disease severity and monitor progression over time to evaluate response to treatment.

“Our ability to identify infectious diseases remains inadequate,” says Chaussabel. “This can delay appropriate therapy, which can result in unnecessary illness and even death. Furthermore, recent outbreaks caused by emerging infectious diseases put people worldwide and in the United States at increased risk. This grant allows us to pursue an alternative diagnostic system that has many advantages that we hope will save many lives.”

About Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason
Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI), founded in 1956, is an international leader in immune system and autoimmune disease research, translating discoveries to real-life applications. Autoimmune diseases happen when the immune system, designed to protect the body, attacks it instead. BRI is one of the few research institutes in the world dedicated to discovering causes and cures to eliminate autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and many others. Visit or for more information about BRI, clinical studies and the more than 80 different types of autoimmune diseases.


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