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Renowned Pathobiologist Discusses Vaccinology, Malaria at CVM

Posted May 01, 2017


Dr. Manuel Elkin Patarroyo, with Dr. Garry Adams and son Dr. Manuel Alfonso Patarroyo

When Dr. Manuel Elkin Patarroyo was a child, his family moved from a small village in Colombia to a city of more than 80,000. No longer able to run “wild” as he did in his village, Patarroyo was given a comic book on Louis Pasteur—the renowned French microbiologist and chemist known for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination and pasteurization—by his father to keep him occupied.

“Being only 10 years old, it took me some time read it; I read it slowly. I kept it like a treasure, really,” Patarroyo said. “My father saw me very much interested in that and got a new one about Robert Koch, the one who discovered the tuberculosis bacilli. He was excited; he bought me another one, about Armauer Hansen, the leprosy discoverer, and later, yet another about Ronald Ross, who discovered that malaria was transmitted by a mosquito (Anopheles) bite, and so on. He kept giving me comics, comics, comics, and I was very much interested. I said, ‘I want to be like this.’”

And like that, indeed, he became. Today, a distinguished physician-scientist, Patarroyo is recognized as the creator of the first chemically synthesized vaccine against malaria; he also still has his comic books.

He visited Texas A&M University and the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) on April 27-28 to lead discussions on developmental vaccinology, the rules and principles for vaccine development, and evaluating human vaccines for world-wide application. The dual seminars were part of the CVM Department of Veterinary Pathobiology (VTTB) Seminar Series, sponsored by Drs. Garry Adams, senior professor of veterinary pathobiology; Bob Burghardt, CVM associate dean; and Ramesh Vemulapalli, professor and head of veterinary pathobiology.

An internationally recognized immunologist, Patarroyo is a professor of molecular pathology at Colombian National University and director of the Colombian Institute of Immunology.

While earning his Medical Doctorate, with a concentration in virology, at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in the late 1960s, Patarroyo worked in the laboratory of Adams, from whom he learned about immunology. Patarroyo began borrowing reagents from Adams’s laboratory, and when Adams returned to the United States, he left his equipment for Patarroyo. Later, Patarroyo traveled to the U.S. to conduct post-doctoral studies at Yale University and Rockefeller University, where he completed his studies. It was at Rockefeller that he began to incorporate chemistry into his microbiology, which is what led to the creation of the synthetic malaria vaccine, by determining its chemical and three-dimensional structure.

“Once you know the 3-D structure of the molecule, you can guess, you can determine which rules to follow—how distant are the atoms, (where they are located on the molecule), and which is polar charged or not charged,” he said.  "Since you can determine these measures, you can determine what the characteristics are and then you can get the pattern. With that pattern you can say, ‘OK, if you follow this distance, this charge, this orientation, you will be able to develop a vaccine,’ not only against malaria, but tuberculosis and the different vaccines that people are working here.

PatarroyoLecture“And once you know the structure, you can determine the rules, and you can create it again; it is very easy,” he said. “You can say, ‘OK, this amino acid has to come with this angle deviation or this little one has to come with angle deviation.’ It is and follows mathematical rules. It is very simple.”

In 1976, Patarroyo founded the Instituto de Inmunología at the San Juan de Dios Hospital, devoted to the development of chemically synthesized vaccines, among them the antimalarial vaccine, SPf66, which was published in 1987, followed by a large series of clinical and field trials in different parts of the world. SPf66 was the first vaccine against a parasite and the first to be produced in a third-world country. Patarroyo donated the SPf66 patent to the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1995 to ensure a cheap and accessible cure for people in developing countries.

Since then, Patarroyo has been an invited speaker at more than a thousand international and national symposia and congresses and has authored 378 articles published in high-impact scientific international journals such as Nature, Lancet, Chemical Reviews, Vaccine, and Accounts of Chemical Research, among others, and has accrued more than 5,000 citations. He has been recognized as one of the world's seven outstanding young men by Jaycees (JC) International, as well as with a number of international orders and awards, including 28 honoris causa doctorates from universities in North, Central, and South America, as well as in Europe.

Patarroyo is currently the Director of Fundacion Instituto de Inmunologia de Colombia (FIDIC), certified by the WHO as a world reference laboratory in peptide synthesis for vaccine and immunodiagnostic purposes. FIDIC provides an example of scientific excellence accompanied by social conscience, despite its being subjected to constant budget limitations typical of a research centre in a third-world country.

During his time on the CVM campus, he also met with graduate and post-doctoral students and was guest of honor at a dinner at Veritas, where he was recognized for his tremendous contributions to the chemical basis of the new frontier of synthetic vaccinations, according to Adams. Fourteen scientists from the CVM and Texas A&M's Colleges of Medicine and Agriculture & Life Sciences also attended. Patarroyo traveled and works with his son, Dr. Manuel Alfonso Patarroyo, who currently is a professor at the Universidad del Rosario School of Medicine in Bogotá, Colombia, and an adjunct professor at the National University of Colombia School of Medicine with 174 high-impact scientific articles.

Patarroyo said he was very impressed by the “extremely high level of scientific development” at Texas A&M and is excited about the prospect of collaborating with CVM scientists to create solutions to other vaccines, in hopes of ultimately benefiting all of human, and animal, kind.

“Talking to Garry (Adams), the different animal diseases can be also helped with the vaccines with the methodology, and that was what he envisioned, using our method for animal care. For that reason, we are collaborating, just to try to help the people to solve these problems,” Patarroyo said. “People may think, ‘who cares about deer? Who cares about horses?’ But, yes, they have to be taken care of. If we can protect the animals, particularly on diseases transmitted from animals to people and vice versa, there might be a day when it's no longer transmitted to people; it’s a very simple concept, but not everyone understands it.

“In essence, the basic knowledge and science has to be developed for humankind benefit,” he said. “One of the things that our parents taught us was, ‘Care for other people. Care for us, because sooner or later that is going to happen to you, too, and sooner or later you might need help, too.’”

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