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November 18, 2013

Dennis Kopecko, Vaccine Innovator, Is Sonenshine Lecturer

topstory3-lgDennis Kopecko
By Jim Raper

Dennis J. Kopecko, a microbiologist who received a Ph.D. from the Medical College of Virginia in 1973 and has become one of the nation's leading authorities on bacterial vaccines, will speak at Old Dominion Thursday, Nov. 21, for the Daniel E. and Helen N. Sonenshine Endowed Lecture Series on Infectious Diseases.

His public lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Chandler Recital Hall of the Diehn Center for the Performing Arts. The title of his presentation will be "Advances in Oral Vaccines."

The layman-friendly talk will explain the painstaking efforts of scientists to develop vaccines that could make travel safer throughout the world, and will touch on the possibility that new anthrax and plague vaccines could be coming soon.

Earlier in the day on Nov. 21, Kopecko will deliver a scientific lecture on Campylobacter for a primary audience of students, faculty members and health professionals beginning at 12:30 p.m. in the first floor auditorium of the E.V. Williams Engineering and Computational Sciences Building.

Kopecko, who grew up in Richmond and has a bachelor's degree from Virginia Military Institute, did work at MCV with plasmids encoding multiple antibiotic resistances in bacteria in the intestines of mammals.

He served in the U.S. Army at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, where he began his studies on mechanisms of bacterial invasion of the human intestine. It was also during his Army service that he became interested in the development of live, attenuated oral vaccines. Attenuated vaccines, which are typically administered orally, are composed of microorganisms with decreased virulence that cannot cause an infection, but can educate the host's immune system to attack the real pathogens.

In 1994, Kopecko became chief of the new Laboratory of Enteric and Sexually Transmitted Diseases within the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Md.

After several years of collaborating on his vaccine constructs with Protein Potential, L.L.C., Kopecko recently accepted the position of vice president, bacterial vaccines, with this private company. He said his goal in the move was to speed up development of vaccines he is working on currently.

His public lecture in the ODU Sonenshine Series will focus on his work to develop the first licensed vaccine to effectively fight shigellosis, which brings on severe stomach cramps and painful colitis that can last up to a month. The proposed vaccine would be delivered on a proven typhoid fever vaccine platform and is designed to be administered by an oral wafer that has a long shelf life and is easily shipped to underdeveloped countries where the medicine is needed most.

Kopecko has reported that this multivalent vaccine will be ready for human testing soon and added, "In further applications of this platform technology we have developed oral anthrax and plague vaccines that show great promise in animal testing."

During his career, Kopecko has obtained patents for 15 vaccines. He has received numerous honorary awards and has been an adviser to U.S. and foreign government agencies, to the World Health Organization, and to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Daniel Sonenshine, an ODU professor emeritus and Eminent Scholar of biological sciences, is one of the world's leading authorities on ticks and tick-borne diseases. He joined the ODU faculty in 1961, and since his retirement in 2002 has remained active in research. In 2008, he received the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene's Hoogstraal Medal for outstanding lifelong service internationally in medical entomology.

Perhaps the crowning achievement of Sonenshine's career is his authorship of the two-volume text, "The Biology of Ticks." The first volume was published in 1991 and the second in 1993 by Oxford University Press. With a total of 914 pages, the work covers all aspects of the biology, morphology, systematics, physiology, biochemistry, ecology, disease relationships and control of ticks. The monumental work helped him win Virginia's Outstanding Scientist Award in 1994. The second edition of this two-volume text is now in print.

In addition to the infectious diseases lecture series, he and his wife, Helen, endowed the Sonenshine Lecture Series in Jewish Studies at ODU.