• WisBusiness

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

 12:07 PM 

Wisconsin flu expert speaks to Swiss trade group

CHICAGO -- Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a UW-Madison researcher who recently launched the Institute for Influenza Virus Research, Wednesday described how "reverse genetics" procedures are helping scientists crack the secrets of deadly flu viruses.

Kawaoka spoke during a breakfast hosted by Giambattista Mondada, the consul general of Switzerland in Chicago. That office represents Switzerland in 12 states, including Wisconsin, and fosters ties between Swiss and American businesses.

Between 250,000 and 500,000 people die each year worldwide from what might be described as "common" flu strains, but Kawaoka's work centers around learning more about the most virulent strains, such as the H1N1 virus and the avian flu virus. His research on reverse genetics made it possible to reconstruct a Spanish flu virus from the 1918 epidemic that killed about 40 million people worldwide. Learning more about that virus, which long ago mutated itself out of existence, has led to greater understanding of today's potential killers.

On hand for Kawaoka's presentation were a number of Swiss officials and business leaders, including representatives from pharmaceutical companies. Kawaoka is also the chief scientist for FluGen, a Madison company that is working to develop a safe, fat and reliable way to grow vaccine viruses inside vats of cells instead of the traditional method of using fertilized chicken eggs.

The breakfast was held in conjunction with the 2010 BIO International Convention and also included some members of the Wisconsin delegation.

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