Dr. Philip Brunell, an internationally renowned pediatrician and expert on
the chickenpox virus, will officially open the trial by rolling up his
sleeve to become the first person to be immunized with the experimental
vaccine. The NIAID study will test a more potent version of the vaccine
used to immunize children against the chickenpox virus. Earlier studies
have shown the study vaccine to be safe and well tolerated.
At 68, Dr. Brunell believes strongly in the new vaccine's potential. "After
almost 40 years of studying varicella-zoster virus," he said, "it is
exciting for me to now be involved in testing this vaccine. Zoster, or
shingles, is a very significant concern for those of us over 60, as the
chance of getting it increases and the condition is often more severe as we
Shingles is a major health problem in older adults. Any individual has a 20
percent chance of developing it during his or her lifetime. Of the hundreds
of thousands of people in the United States who will be diagnosed with
shingles this year, most will be over age 60.
Shingles is caused by the same virus, varicella-zoster (VZV), that causes
chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox, VZV remains in the nerve
cells by the spinal cord for life but is usually dormant. If it becomes
reactivated, however, it can cause shingles. Early symptoms may include an
outbreak of rash or blisters - usually on one side of the body or face -
burning, tingling or shooting pain. Although skin symptoms may heal within
weeks, the pain (called post-herpetic neuralgia) can be intense, severely
debilitating and last for years. Other serious complications, such as
blindness or hearing loss, may also occur.
As people who have had chickenpox age, their body's ability to suppress the
virus is compromised, making them more susceptible to shingles. Once they
have had shingles, they seldom have a recurrence, suggesting that the
episode boosts immunity which then keeps the virus in check.
"We believe that by boosting the body's immune response with this vaccine -
mimicking a naturally occurring case of zoster - shingles and post-herpetic
neuralgia may be prevented," said Norberto Emilio Soto, M.D., principal
investigator on the study.
The national trial of approximately 20 medical centers is recruiting a total
of 37,000 volunteers - 1,800 in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area -
and is funded by the Veterans Administration, Merck & Co., and NIAID.
People are invited to participate in this medical research study if they:
Those interested in participating or obtaining more information should call
1-800-411-1222. Extra copies of flyers for recruiting study participants,
and fact sheets on shingles and the shingles prevention study, may be
obtained by calling 1-800-772-5464 ext. 658. Media interested in attending
the event on June 17 at the NIH Clinical Center should call the NIAID press
office to make arrangements.
NIAID and the Clinical Center are components of the National Institutes of
Health (NIH). NIAID conducts and supports research to prevent, diagnose and
treat illnesses such as HIV disease and other sexually transmitted diseases,
tuberculosis, malaria, asthma and allergies. The Clinical Center conducts
clinical research on a wide variety of conditions including cancer, AIDS,
mental illness and rare diseases. NIH is an agency of the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services.
Press releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available
on the NIAID Web site at www.niaid.nih.gov.