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Students Learn About Vaccines

August 1, 2012
The Wistar Institute, Philadelphia, PA

Wistar hosted The Franklin Institute’s STEM Scholars, members of a concentrated outreach science and engineering program. Its select group of students take part in rigorous, project-based, informal science curriculum consisting during the school-year and in the summer.

Bill Wunner, Ph.D., our Training Program Director, spoke with the group about what Wistar does, how basic biomedical research operates and why, and then specifically focused on Wistar’s vaccine work. Lately, the STEM students have been studying vaccines, and teams within their group chose diseases, such as genital herpes, and devised hypothetical vaccines to prevent and treat them.

Bill Wunner, who was one of the Wistar researchers who devised the rabies vaccine for animals that led to a massive decline in rabies among wildlife, shared the story of that vaccine’s development. He outlined the initial massive rabies outbreak along the Northeast Corridor in the 1970s and the steps that his team took to devise a vaccine that was effective, safe, and easy to administer to wildlife, particularly raccoons, which were the main disease vector at that time.

Juliana Small, a predoctoral fellow in the Ertl Lab, followed Bill Wunner with a brief lecture on some of the challenges facing the creation of HIV and HPV vaccines, such as HIV’s most devious trick of targeting the immune system itself, which is the very system that vaccines rely on to help fight disease.