Research

Investigators at the NWRCE and surrounding region are significantly invested in infectious disease research. The RCE is a highly integrated center, with research projects at the University of Washington as well as institutions in the metropolitan, state, and regional area. Through its interactions with partnering institutions and the seeding of developmental projects throughout the region, this network also brings Northwest researchers and their institutions into a working relationship. The Center supports nine major research projects and ten core groups, which provide scientific and technical support to the research activities being conducted at the RCE. Often, cutting edge or groundbreaking technologies are used to advance our understanding of what the NIAID classifies as Priority Pathogens.

Current emphasis of the Center is on diseases caused by Gram-negative bacteria. Many species of Gram-negative bacteria are pathogenic, or cause disease. The term Gram-negative refers to the type of stain used to view these bacteria, which in turn is determined by the structure of their outer cell membranes. The cell membranes of Gram-negative bacteria are much thinner than those of Gram-positive bacteria. Structures on these membranes are usually associated with the ability of the bacteria to cause disease. The agents presently under study are those that cause melioidosis, plague, and tularemia.

Melioidosis

Also called Whitmore’s Disease; caused by the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei. Common in Southeast Asia where it is carried by many types of domestic animals, including sheep, cattle, pigs, and dogs. Can cause severe infections of the skin, blood, lungs, and other organs.

Plague

Also called the “Black Death”; caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis. Killed about one third of Europe’s population (20 to 30 million people) in the 1330s and about 12 million people in China in the mid-1800s. Because of antibiotics and better sanitation, currently only about 1,000 to 3,000 cases occur a year worldwide. Carried by rats and fleas. Can infect people three different ways: through the skin (bubonic plague), blood (septicemic plague), or the lungs (pneumonic plague, the most serious and contagious form of the disease).

Tularemia

Also called deerfly or rabbit fever; caused by the bacteria Francisella tularensis. Carried by small mammals, including rodents and rabbits, and insects that feed on them, such as fleas and ticks. Caused widespread infections in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s. Can cause severe infections of the skin, blood, lungs, and other organs.