Vaccine researcher receives pilot grant from UF institute

Dr. Beata Clapp at work in her mentor, Dr. David Pascual's lab.

Dr. Beata Clapp at work in her mentor, Dr. David Pascual’s lab. (Photo by Sarah Carey)

By Sarah Carey

Dr. Beata Clapp, an assistant research professor at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, recently received a pilot project award from UF’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute for her work to evaluate vaccines against human brucellosis.

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease caused by various Brucella species, which mainly infect cattle, swine, goats, sheep and dogs, according to the World Health Organization’s website. The WHO site states that humans generally acquire the disease through direct contact with infected animals, by eating or drinking contaminated animal products, or by inhaling airborne agents,

“Although vaccination and culling of infected animals has strongly reduced the incidence of human brucellosis in many countries, it is still common in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, South and Central America, the Mediterranean Basin and the Caribbean,” Clapp said.

Brucellosis is a debilitating disease in humans and animals. In humans, it can cause an undulating fever and lifelong problems, including arthritis, endocarditis and possible neurological complications among others. To date, there are no effective vaccines for humans, and limited efficacy of conventional livestock vaccines makes it difficult to eradicate this disease.

“To address this void, we recently developed a live, attenuated vaccine that was found to be highly effective in our animal studies,” Clapp said. “Given the potency of this vaccine, we wanted to test its efficacy against Brucella infection in humans.”

Suitable animal models are needed prior to any human testing, however. Clapp’s project aims to validate whether the human immune system is responsive to the vaccine, and determine whether it is possible to predict its efficacy in humans.

To that end, Clapp is investigating whether mice reconstituted with human hematopoietic stem cells can be adapted as a preclinical surrogate model to determine the vaccine’s efficacy.

“Upon conclusion of these studies, we plan to establish an animal model for human Brucella infection to enable future testing of vaccines for human brucellosis,” Clapp said.

Clapp has been involved in vaccine development work since 2004, when she came to the United States as a postdoctoral fellow at Montana State University. There, she was responsible for testing new mucosal vaccines against Clostridium botulinum. In more recent years, she has worked exclusively with Brucella.

In the laboratory of her mentor, Dr. David Pascual, a professor in the college’s department of infectious diseases and pathology, Clapp is in charge of testing the immunogenicity and protective efficacy of various potential vaccine candidates against infection with Brucella melitensis, Brucella abortus and Brucella suis.

“Additionally, my work focuses on investigating immunological mechanisms underlying the protection conferred by the vaccine candidates,” Clapp said.

The institute’s pilot project awards support the growth of interdisciplinary and investigator-initiated research and provide three categories of support: trainee, junior faculty and novel methods and technologies. Clapp was honored in the novel methods and technologies category and is one of 14 investigators from across six UF colleges to receive the award.


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