Prof Les Baillie
- Professor of Microbiology, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences since 2007-12-06
- Honorary Professor, Heriot Watt University since 2006
- Associate Professor, Director Biodefense Initiative, Medical Biotechnology Center, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, since 2002
- Adjunct Assistant Professor, Microbiology and Immunology Department, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Medical School since 2003
- Department Head, Biodefense Medical Countermeasures, Biological Defense Research Directorate, US Naval Medical Research Center, Washington D.C., USA. From 2003 to 2007
- Principal Scientist, Chemical and Biological Sciences, Defence Science and Technologies Laboratory, Porton Down (MOD), Salisbury, UK. From 1993 to 2002
The principal focus of my research career has been the organism B.anthracis and its illicit use as a bio-weapon. Early work was driven by the need to develop detection assays and medical countermeasures for MOD, much of which I have been unable to publish for security reasons. In recent years, I have broadened my interests and am currently addressing the following research questions;
Evolution, ecology and the role of bacteriophages in horizontal gene transfer
My working hypothesis is that B. anthracis evolved from a strain of B.cereus through the horizontal acquisition of virulence factors from other bacilli. Using a number of approaches, including MLST typing and analysis of the nucleotide sequence of the B.anthracis genome, a multi-national effort that I lead, we have generated considerable data in support of this hypothesis. The presence of conserved prophages in the genome of every isolate of B.anthracis examined to date (>300 isolates) points to phages, in addition to plasmids, playing a role in gene transfer and evolution. Our recent isolation of phages capable of infecting B.anthracis and other members of the B.cereus group and the emergence of pathogenic strains of B.cereus expressing virulence factors thought to be unique to B. anthracis lends further support to this premise. While there is data to support the idea of horizontal gene transfer the precise mechanisms and conditions under which it occurs have yet to be defined. Outside of an infected host, B.anthracis persists in the environment as a dormant spore and as such is unable to transfer genetic material. Little is known about the environmental signals which trigger germination and support replication, essential events if gene transfer is to occur. I am using soil microcosms to determine the factors which trigger germination and to demonstrate the feasibility of environmental phage mediated gene transfer.
I was one of the first researchers to investigate the fine structure of the exosporium which comprises the outer surface of the B.anthracis spore. Rather than being inert, I have shown, with colleagues at the University Maryland Medical School, that the exosporium is decorated with enzymes which play a role in the early stages of germination and infection.
I have a particular interest in understanding the cellular event following the infection of macrophages by B.anthracis spores. My recent data suggests that even though the spore triggers a number of pathogen pattern recognition receptors, it is still able to ameliorate antibacterial killing mechanisms such as nitric oxide. Following successful intracellular germination the organism expresses a complex network of virulence factors which enable it to escape from the cell. I have a long term interest in understanding the mechanisms which regulate in vivo virulence factor expression and am currently investigating the role of the inducible PlcR virulence regulon with leading US and Russian researchers based at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.
Host immune response
I have a long term interest in understanding the immune response of immunized and infected individuals as a means of identifying mechanisms of protection. In collaboration with clinicians in Turkey where anthrax is endemic, we have characterized the immune response of infected and immunized individuals, and have shown antibodies to be the key mediator of protection. I am scientific advisor to two international companies currently developing antibody based therapies. I am also investigating the role of human memory B cells with colleagues at Emory Medical School in Atlanta. In a related effort I am working on a project with the UK MOD to optimize the immunization schedule of the UK vaccine. Finally I am a collaborator in a multi-national US NIH funded project lead by Imperial College, London to develop DNA vaccines expressing B and CD4 T cell epitopes which confer protection against anthrax and plague.
The development of vaccines against anthrax has been a central strand of my research career. I have developed two anthrax vaccines, one based on recombinant protein (UK MOD) and the other a DNA vaccine (US Navy) both of which have progressed to clinical trials. My current effort is focused on developing needle free vaccine delivery platforms such as micro-encapsulation and attenuated strains of Salmonella capable of conferring protection following oral dosing.
Contribution at National and International level
- Member of the Home Office Science and Technology Advisory Group to the Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Counter Terrorism Research and Development Program 2007
- Expert member of the US National Institute of Health Blue Ribbon Panel on the development of monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of anthrax 2004
- Consultant to the FBI anthrax mail investigation 2003
- Founding member of the NIH Mid Atlantic Center for Biodefense Vaccine Research. 2003
- Expert Presenter FDA workshop to identify animal models for anthrax, Bethesda, MD. 2002
- Invited to present to specialist anthrax and vaccine conferences, workshops and expert panels around the world: Siena IT (1997), The Haag NL (1998), Plymouth UK (1999), Winchester UK (2000), Annapolis US (2002) Southampton UK (2002), Reston US (2002), San Diego US (2003), Rand Corporation US (2004); Tokyo (2004), Brighton UK (2005), Dubai UAE (2005), HPA UK (2005), Newark US (2005), St Petersburg RUS (2005) Winnipeg CAN (2005), Astana KZ (2006), Washington US (2002-2006)
Invitations of note
- Invited speaker US Department of Agriculture workshop on bio-threat agents (1998)
- Invited speaker Gordon Conferences on Microbial Population Biology (2001) and Biodefense (2004)
- US NIH Expert panel next generation anthrax vaccine animal models (2002)
- US NIH Expert panel monoclonal antibodies for treatment of anthrax (2003)
- Special advisor to the FBI on the anthrax postal attacks (sole non-US advisor)
- Expert Panel Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.C. (2004)
- Advisor to the British Embassy in Washington D.C. on biodefence issues (2003-2006)
- Represented the US Navy in Kazakhstan (2006)
- Chair Innate Immunity session, EU-US Advances in Immunology and Vaccine Workshop (2006) Participation in Grant Review Process
I have served as an expert reviewer of anthrax and biodefence related research proposals for the following research funding bodies:
- Technical reviewer for the British Biotechnology Science Research Council (2000)
- US National Institutes of Health (2002-2006)
- US Department of Defence, Chem / Biodefence program (2003-2006)
- Canadian Ministry of Defence, Chem / Biodefence program (2004-2006) Professional bodies
I have been a member of the Society for Applied Microbiology for many years and served as a committee member from 1999 to 2002, when I chaired the recruitment sub group. I am also an editor for the Society’s journals in addition to being an ad hoc reviewer for a number of other journals.
Editorial Board member for the Journal of Medical, Chemical, Biological and Radiological Defense
Organisation of International Conferences
- Organizing chairman, 3rd International Conference on Anthrax, 1998. University of Plymouth
- Organizing chairman, Dangerous Pathogens Conferences, 2000 University of Plymouth
- Organizing committee, Dangerous Pathogens Conferences, 2002, Bath
- Member scientific organising committee, 4th International Conference on Anthrax, 2001, Annapolis, Maryland, USA
- Member scientific organising committee, 5th International Conference on Anthrax, 2003, Nice, France
- Member scientific organising committee, 6th International Conference on Anthrax, 2005, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
- Member organizing and scientific committee, 7th International Conference on Anthrax, 2007, Oslo Norway