By Matt Majarian

Doctors at the UR Medical Center are part of an ongoing series of studies designed to address the continuing need for flu vaccines in the country, specficially those to protect against bird flu.

Earlier this year, Director of the URMC Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit John Treanor, led a study of about 150 healthy patients in Rochester to test dosage levels of a new vaccine designed to combat the most deadly variant of bird flu.

“Bird flu is like an extreme example of a new strain of flu,” Treanor said. “The components of the flu vaccine change every year depending on what strains are circulating, and this vaccine is no different.”

The study, which began in March, focuses on a new vaccine produced by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Aventis.

Already, the U.S. government has purchased two million doses of the vaccine for use this flu season.

They are currently waiting on the results of this study to determine the optimal amount of the vaccine to distribute.

The March vaccine study was conducted by an association of doctors at UR, the University of Maryland and the University of California at Los Angeles.

Between those medical centers, 450 people were given vaccinations, with some receiving the actual medicine and some receiving a placebo for testing purposes. Results of the study are expected within a month.

Treanor and his team have conducted previous work in the field of flu vaccination.

Last year, a study conducted at URMC contributed to the recent release of the new flu vaccine Fluarix, produced by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.

“Our study of GSK’s Fluarix led to its approval, which has led to its availability,” URMC Senior Science Editor Tom Rickey said. “This has played a part in alleviating the ‘regular flu’ vaccine shortage.”

More important this year, however, is a defense against bird flu. Outbreaks have occurred in Asia and Europe, fueling worries that it could soon reach the U.S.

“People are more worried about bird flu now because the virus is spreading in birds to new areas of the world, increasing the chances that people can get infected,” Treanor said. “Every time a person gets infected, there is a chance that genetic changes could occur in the virus that would change its behavior and make it spread from person to person.”

This possibility has prompted governments across the world to stockpile medicines and vaccines to combat bird flu.

This medicine is usually only used as a treatment for patients who have already contracted bird flu. In the long run, there will be vaccinations against specific dangerous strains of bird flu.

The URMC is currently working towards the goal of reducing the effects of bird flu by researching new treatments and testing the effectiveness of old ones in bird flu-specific situations.

Treanor’s team is beginning three new bird flu studies – one to test the effectiveness of vaccines in people over the age of 65, one to test the remaining effectiveness of a vaccine first administered seven years ago, and finally a follow-up study on the vaccine tested in March.

“UR has a long tradition of clinical studies of experimental vaccines,” Treanor said. “We have just the right combination of scientific expertise, organization and an interested and willing population of study subjects to be able to do these important studies.”

Majarian can be reached at

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