Tufts Biophysicist Receives NIH New Innovator Award for Ebola Research

James Munro of Tufts University School of Medicine receives NIH High-Risk, High-Reward New Innovator award

Tufts' James Munro

BOSTON (October 6, 2015, 10:00 a.m. EDT) — James Munro, Ph.D., of Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, is a recipient of the 2015 National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award. Munro is developing a new way to use single molecule imaging of Ebola glycoproteins, on a non-infectious substitute virus, to investigate how viruses such as Ebola enter host cells.

Part of the NIH Common Fund’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award supports exceptionally creative, early-career investigators who propose innovative, high-impact projects to major challenges in biomedical research.

Working with the glycoprotein (GP) molecule found in the viral envelope that carries the Ebola virus from cell to cell in humans – not with live Ebola virus – Munro will use methods similar to those used to better understand the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1). A better understanding of the Ebola GP is necessary to open opportunities for medical and pharmaceutical scientists to develop vaccines that can protect humans from the Ebola virus. Such enveloped viruses represent many of the world’s most important pathogens, including the Ebola viruses, HIV-1, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Munro, a biophysicist working in virology, was part of a team that pioneered the use of an imaging technique to better understand how the HIV-1 virus infects a human cell in real time. This technique is called single-molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (smFRET). With the funding from NIH, Munro hopes to establish smFRET as a tool to gather information that will inform the future design of a structure-based vaccine to fight the spread of Ebola.

“The subject of our examination, the glycoproteins, are the only exposed viral proteins on the surface of the virus, making them an ideal target for a vaccine,” said Munro. “The glycoproteins are the first component of the virus that the immune system would recognize as a threat. How do these glycoproteins promote entry into cells, while escaping the attention of our immune response? By using an inert and non-infectious particle for the Ebola virus, we can conduct research that will aid in developing vaccines based on the glycoproteins.”

According to Harris Berman, M.D., dean of Tufts University School of Medicine, “The National Institutes of Health are to be applauded for supporting urgently needed and highly technical research to fight the Ebola virus, and increasing the capacity of nations to prevent this terrible disease. Dr. Munro’s research will benefit people who are endangered by the spread of the Ebola virus.”

“As the world has witnessed over the past year, the Ebola virus is among the most deadly of human pathogens, causing immediate and severe hemorrhagic fever in patients. The lack of a readily available vaccine puts additional populations at risk for high rates of mortality,” he added.

The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, established in 2007, supports early career investigators within 10 years of their terminal degree or clinical residency and is part of the NIH Common Fund’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program. The program houses four unique awards supporting exceptionally creative scientists with highly innovative approaches to major challenges in biomedical research at all career stages.

About Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences

Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts University are international leaders in innovative medical and population health education and advanced research. Tufts University School of Medicine emphasizes rigorous fundamentals in a dynamic learning environment to educate physicians, scientists, and public health professionals to become leaders in their fields. The School of Medicine and the Sackler School are renowned for excellence in education in general medicine, the biomedical sciences, and public health, as well as for innovative research at the cellular, molecular, and population health level. Ranked among the top in the nation, the School of Medicine is affiliated with six major teaching hospitals and more than 30 health care facilities. Tufts University School of Medicine and the Sackler School undertake research that is consistently rated among the highest in the nation for its effect on the advancement of medical and prevention science.


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A note regarding the above references to the Sackler School: In December 2019, Tufts University announced that it would remove the Sackler name from all programs and facilities—including the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. At that time, the school was renamed the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

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