This is either a very good idea or a very bad idea – you decide

Smallpox pathogenesis It seems like only yesterday we were on the verge of international agreement to destroy all remaing laboratory stocks of smallpox (variola) virus. So it comes as something of a surprise to find people infecting monkeys with smallpox to study the pathogenesis of the disease. Such studies significantly advance our understanding of variola pathogenesis in primates and could help development of new antiviral drugs, improved bioterrorism countermeasures, and suggest new potential targets for therapeutic intervention in humans.

But is it a good idea?


Progression of Pathogenic Events in Cynomolgus Macaques Infected with Variola Virus. (2011) PLoS ONE 6(10): e24832. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024832
Smallpox, caused by variola virus (VARV), is a devastating human disease that affected millions worldwide until the virus was eradicated in the 1970 s. Subsequent cessation of vaccination has resulted in an immunologically naive human population that would be at risk should VARV be used as an agent of bioterrorism. The development of antivirals and improved vaccines to counter this threat would be facilitated by the development of animal models using authentic VARV. Towards this end, cynomolgus macaques were identified as adequate hosts for VARV, developing ordinary or hemorrhagic smallpox in a dose-dependent fashion. To further refine this model, we performed a serial sampling study on macaques exposed to doses of VARV strain Harper calibrated to induce ordinary or hemorrhagic disease. Several key differences were noted between these models. In the ordinary smallpox model, lymphoid and myeloid hyperplasias were consistently found whereas lymphocytolysis and hematopoietic necrosis developed in hemorrhagic smallpox. Viral antigen accumulation, as assessed immunohistochemically, was mild and transient in the ordinary smallpox model. In contrast, in the hemorrhagic model antigen distribution was widespread and included tissues and cells not involved in the ordinary model. Hemorrhagic smallpox developed only in the presence of secondary bacterial infections – an observation also commonly noted in historical reports of human smallpox. Together, our results support the macaque model as an excellent surrogate for human smallpox in terms of disease onset, acute disease course, and gross and histopathological lesions.

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2 Responses to This is either a very good idea or a very bad idea – you decide

  1. Dr Rick Bennett says:

    Bioterrorism does not exist. To use the fear a same to advance a research agenda is intellectually very dishonest. The work was funded by Homeland Security and we researchers go after money where ever we can. CA-MRSA is a far more serious threat, but HS is not funding research there. . Similarly the promise of new drugs to justify a poorly justifiable research agenda is similarly dishonest. Very few new drugs are in corporate pipeline as they are now letting the feds to the basic R and D yet I am not confident we are.

  2. Ed Rybicki says:

    You have to love the US and their Homeland Defence: they fund people to work on anthrax, haemorrhagic fevers, vaccines for same – and now smallpox!!?

    Really, really, this comes under the heading of “Hey, let’s do some work Homeland Defence will fund! Oh, and let’s use some of that smallpox / variola in the freezer…”.

    There are enough nasty viruses out there that are similar to smallpox – monkeypox, for one – that it is should not be necessary to go digging in the secure freezer. There is also enough vaccine being made right now for other purposes – like vectoring HIV and malaria genes – to protect against use of smallpox as a weapon, let alone the stockpiles of old but still very viable vaccine.

    So my vote is NO, it is not a good idea!

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