Founded in 1976, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute
is the largest independent, non-profit organization in the United States focused solely on infectious disease discovery research. The mission of SBRI's 250+ employees is to eliminate the world's most devastating infectious diseases through leadership in scientific discovery. SBRI is headquartered and has research labs in the South Lake Union area of Seattle, WA
and has field labs in Tanzania. SBRI's research focuses on five areas of infectious diseases
, microbial pathogens, trypanosomatids, and tuberculosis
In 1976, founders Ruth W. Shearer, Ph.D., and Kenneth D. Stuart, Ph.D., set up a research laboratory in Issaquah, WA. Originally called the Issaquah Group for Health and Environmental Research, the name was soon changed to Issaquah Biomedical Research Institute. Scientists at the Institute studied parasites, such as the ones that cause malaria and African sleeping sickness.
Dr. Stuart was invited by the World Health Organization to advise about future research into tropical diseases in 1980. The first post-doctoral scientists joined the Institute in 1982. In 1986, the Institute relocated to Seattle, Washington to enhance its scientific programs and became Seattle Biomedical Research Institute. Researchers began collaborating with University of Washington faculty and local biotechnology companies, while international research projects expanded to India, Germany, and France. By the early 1990s, SBRI had grown to nearly 60 employees. The Institute was recognized by the National Institutes of Health for its contributions to parasitology and selected as a cooperating Parasitology Group to help set research priorities for the United States.
SBRI formalized a long-standing affiliation with the University of Washington in 1992, which permitted reciprocal teaching and training programs. By 1993, all principal investigators at SBRI were appointed as faculty members in the Pathobiology Department at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine. As of 2000, SBRI had more than eighty full-time employees, and research revenue had increased from $2.7 million in 1991 to more than $8 million in 2001. Today, SBRI has more than 250 employees, representing 20 countries around the world, and has a budget of nearly $30 million, with funding from a variety of government agencies, foundations and private donors.
In late 2007, SBRI was awarded a $30.6 million contract to establish the Seattle Structural Genomics Center for Infectious Disease, which brings together a consortium of Washington-based organizations to provide a “blueprint” for the development of new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics for deadly infectious diseases.
SBRI's research focuses on five areas of infectious diseases: microbial pathogens, Malaria, trypanosomatids, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis.
Microbial pathogens under study include H. influenzae (Haemophilus influenzae
), MAC Mycobacterium avium complex
, respiratory bacterial infections, and yeast and mold infections, including candidiasis
. Through its Microbial Pathogens Program, SBRI researchers are seeking to understand the molecular mechanisms by which H. influenzae (Haemophilus influenzae
) colonizes the human respiratory tract and, after colonization, how it causes local or systemic disease. Local infections of the respiratory tract under investigation include otitis media, particularly the recalcitrant chronic serous sequelae of infants, acute otitis media and chronic bronchitis.
As part of a broad global initiative to fight malaria, SBRI developed its Malaria Program in 2000, with an initial grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
. With a three-pronged approach, SBRI's Malaria Program is focused on vaccine discovery for pregnancy malaria, severe malaria in children and liver-stage malaria. In 2005, SBRI received two Grand Challenges in Global Health grants to accelerate its malaria research. Out of 43 grants awarded worldwide, only two organizations received two awards: SBRI and Harvard University. Soon, SBRI will move into clinical trials with a whole organism genetically attenuated malaria vaccine.
Diseases under investigation as part of the Trypanosomatids Program include African sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, and toxoplasmosis. As part of an international consortium, SBRI researchers sequenced the genomes of the parasites that cause African sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis. These sequences have been shared with researchers around the world and provide the basic playbook for much-needed new drugs.
With a focus on discovering safe and effective HIV/AIDS vaccines, SBRI's researchers are experts in neutralizing antibodies, which are antibodies that block HIV infection. These antibodies bind to the surface of HIV and prevent it from attaching itself to a cell and infecting it. SBRI's latest HIV/AIDS research focuses on testing several hundred potential new immunogens for their abilities to elicit broadly reactive neutralizing antibodies; rapidly screen and identify the immunogens that are better than others; and focus on those superior immunogens to improve them.
Through its TB research, SBRI seeks to uncover the strategy the TB bacterium uses for long-term survival with the goal of providing better insight on how to improve drugs to act more quickly against the disease. SBRI TB researchers are working to develop novel and innovative whole-cell screen; generate novel methods of target identification and validation; and apply cutting-edge technologies to speed target-based drug discovery. In 2002, SBRI initiated the Pacific Northwest Tuberculosis Straining Typing Center in order to assist the Seattle King County Public Health Department in pinpointing the origins of local tuberculosis outbreaks. This rapid diagnosis aided the health department in 2003 when King County suffered its biggest surge in TB in 30 years.
BioQuest, SBRI's science education program, began in 1999 as a modest outreach program for pre-college youth. The first visits to BioQuest consisted of small class tours at SBRI's second facility, located in the Fremont area of Seattle. Since formally launching the BioQuest program in the south Lake Union location in 2004, over 12,000 students have participated in tours, external programming and intensive programming. BioQuest is supported by funding from individuals, corporate donors, and supporting foundations. As of 2008, BioQuest is the only education program in the country to be hosted within the footprint of an infectious disease research facility.
NW schools gain unique, engaging and interactive access to SBRI's life-saving mission through Site Explorations. During the school day, a class of up to 32 students visits BioQuest for half-day, mini job shadows. Following a biosafety overview, students take a tour of SBRI, learning about infectious disease research directly from SBRI's scientists and complete their global health exploration with a hands-on lab investigation in the Discovery lab. Teens and teacher alike praise the ability to investigate malaria through Anopheles mosquito dissections! BioQuest holds a series of workshops designed for teachers to learn about infectious diseases (e.g., malaria and tuberculosis) and offer global health curriculum to support students in meeting state science and math education learning requirements. During the 2007-2006 school year, BioQuest conducted 38 Site Explorations for nearly 700 Washington high school students.
Once hooked, older high school students can apply to enter the BioQuest Academy--a "biomedical boot camp" for 11th graders and funded by the National Center for Research and Resources at the National Institutes for Health, The Academy delivers 60 hours of one-on-one introductions to molecular biology, pathways to scientific careers and critical connections between students and program mentors long after sessions end. A true STEM* pipeline! 91% of 2005-07 Academy graduates are attending post-secondary schools across the country and authoring science publications (e.g., Microbiology154:960-70).
Savvy of the great community demand for real world, vocational opportunities, BioQuest sponsors a limited number of paid summer internships in SBRI's research laboratories. From January through March, SBRI accepts applications (through the BioQuest website) for recent high school students who can enter SBRI's labs at the age of 18 (minors, following Washington State safety laws, may not work in our labs).
BioQuest staff has created two animated learning modules for pre-college students to learn about two of the world's most devastating infectious diseases. The Global Burden of Tuberculosis shows connections between science, history, mathematics and tuberculosis in Seattle and beyond. The BioQuest Virtual Malaria Researcher shows how bench scientists are exploring parasite genes that cause malaria.
SBRI investigators receive funding from a variety of sources: the United States Environmental Protection Agency
, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
, the National Institutes of Health
(NIH), the Fogarty International Center at NIH, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
, the Norcliffe Foundation, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the United States Department of Defense
, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, and Puget Sound Partners for Global Health.