UMBC scientist receives Maryland Innovation grant from TEDCO to advance the development of a vaccine to combat a deadly fish virus

Professor Vikram Vakharia, Professor of Marine Biotechnology at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET) in Baltimore, received a $100,000 grant from the Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII). Vakhria will use the funds to develop a vaccine against viral infections in fish populations. Such viruses can be devastating to fish populations world-wide. A vaccine could have tremendous implications for hatcheries and rearing ponds that provide high-protein fish to tens millions of people.

Many viral diseases in fish have been reported worldwide. Of particular concern is infections caused by nervous necrosis virus (NNV). This virus is of concern because it impacts both warm- and cold-water fish in marine environments. The virus has resulted in severe economic losses in many Asian and European countries, Australia and North America. It is estimated that 5% of loss in the finfish aquaculture industry is due to disease and translates into over $1 billion global annual loses. The disease is associated with high mortality (up to 100 %) particularly in larvae and juvenile fish species. Therefore, technologies are needed to immunize large populations of fish with vaccines that are efficient and economical.

“The health of fish is critical to the aquaculture industry and the countless number of people who consume fish in every corner of the world,” said Vakharia, a global leader in viral diseases of aquaculture. “Nervous necrosis virus (NNV) infects more than 40 fish species and currently, there are no commercial vaccines available to prevent this disease,” Vakharia added.

The goal of Vakharia’s research is to develop and evaluate the efficacy of a recombinant NNV vaccine.

“Dr. Vakharia’s research is critically important from both an environmental and economic perspective,” noted Russell Hill, Director of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology (IMET). “The development of a new vaccine will support the aquaculture industry and help provide food for millions of people. We greatly appreciate TEDCO’s support and foresight in addressing this important work through the Maryland Innovation Initiative.”

The Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) was created as a partnership between the State of Maryland and five Maryland academic research institutions (Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, University of Maryland College Park, University of Maryland Baltimore and University of Maryland Baltimore County). The program is designed to promote commercialization of research conducted among the partnership universities and to leverage each institution’s unique strengths.

The Maryland State Legislature created TEDCO in 1998 to facilitate the transfer and commercialization of technology from Maryland’s research universities and federal labs into the marketplace and to assist in the creation and growth of technology-based businesses in all regions of the State. TEDCO is an independent organization that strives to be Maryland’s lead source for entrepreneurial business assistance and seed funding for the development of startup companies in Maryland’s innovation economy.

Located in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology is a strategic alliance involving scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the University of Maryland Baltimore and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Scientists are engaged in cutting-edge research in microbiology, molecular genetic analysis and biotechnology, using marine resources to develop new drug therapies, alternative energy and other innovations to improve public health and economic opportunities. IMET also contributes to sustainable marine aquaculture and fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay and other marine ecosystems.