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Research in Focus: Vaccine Research and Development

Saint Louis University is a national leader in vaccine research and development. SLU researchers in this area are on the front lines of the fight against several potentially fatal diseases and illnesses.

Hear three SLU researchers discuss how SLU’s world-class vaccine research and development is fighting disease around the world with the help of our local St. Louis community.

Saint Louis University is a national leader in vaccine research and development. For over two decades, the SLU Center for Vaccine Development has strived to develop treatments for some of the most severe diseases known to man.

“The goal of a vaccine is to prevent human disease and suffering,” said Sarah George, M.D., associate professor of infectious diseases.

That sentiment drives all vaccine research at SLU.

Protecting the Globe

Though she has been involved in a variety of projects, George is the principal investigator for an ongoing, NIH-funded study on a Zika vaccine. SLU is one of four places in the entire world where that vaccine is being tested.

“We have preliminary data that shows that this Zika vaccine is both safe and causes a good antibody response to Zika,” George said.

SLU is home to one of only ten federally funded Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units (VTEU) in the United States. Because of this, SLU researchers often find themselves at the front lines of the fight against potentially fatal infectious diseases.

In addition to Zika, SLU researchers are also leading the fight against influenza.

SLU is among four federally funded vaccine research centers studying an investigational universal influenza vaccine intended to protect against multiple strains of the virus. SLU recently invested in a new Extended Stay Research Unit to see if investigational vaccines keep volunteers from getting sick.

 “We’d be better protected against new pandemics. We’re making progress, so there’s optimism," said Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D., director of SLU’s Center for Vaccine Development.

Support from St. Louis 

None of this research would be possible without the incredible support that SLU researchers get from the local community in St. Louis.

“The St. Louis region has been extremely supportive of our vaccine research," said Sharon Frey, M.D., clinical director of SLU’s Center for Vaccine Development. "It’s just been incredibly wonderful to see the community come out to volunteer in our research studies. Without them, we cannot do our vaccine research, and we owe them a great debt.”

Mission in Action

Frey, who previously worked on some of the original smallpox studies, believes that the mission of SLU resonates with volunteers and the larger St. Louis community.

“People trust SLU because they know Saint Louis University’s mission and that we’re here to serve people,”  Frey said. 

“At SLU, when you say ‘mission,’ it really means something,” Hoft said. “To especially help those who are less fortunate than us drives me and drives a lot more people at Saint Louis University than at other institutions.”

This is the ultimate goal of SLU’s vaccine research: to alleviate suffering and build a better, healthier world for all.

“More advances to public health. That’s the end goal of all of this: public health, relief and prevention of suffering,” said George. “You have to be determined and methodical and keep working toward that goal.”

“What is the goal?” asked Frey. “Well, the goal is to protect the globe. It doesn’t get much better than that!” 

About the Faculty

Learn more about the three faculty members featured in this article and video:

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Sarah George, M.D.

Associate Professor, Infectious Diseases
George is an infectious disease specialist whose primary research interests are viruses spread by mosquitos, such as yellow fever and the Zika virus. She was the principal investigator on a NIH-funded study on a Zika vaccine. SLU is one of only four places in the world to be selected to test this vaccine.

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Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D.

Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, Allergy and Immunology
Director, Center for Vaccine Development
Hoft is the principal investigator of SLU’s Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (VTEU) and is the Adorjan Endowed Chair in Infectious Diseases. He is a national leader in vaccine development, and has been involved in a variety of high profile research projects, including a study of an investigational universal flu vaccine. His research has been funded by a variety of organizations, such as the National institutes of Health, for which he is a grant reviewer. Hoft has been given a variety of honors for his work, including being named a fellow of the Academy of Science of St. Louis in 2018.

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Sharon Frey, M.D.

Clinical Director, Center for Vaccine Development
Frey is the Kinsella Endowed Chair in Internal Medicine and the Associate Director of Clinical Research in the Division of Infectious Diseases, Allergy and Immunology. Her primary research interests are agents of bioterrorism. She has worked on some of the original smallpox studies, and has performed further studies to ensure those treatments remain effective today. She has also been the principal investigator in a study of a vaccine for bird flu as part of the federal government’s preparation for a global influenza pandemic.

If you are interested in volunteering for a vaccine study at SLU's Center for Vaccine Development, please visit this page.