Ralph A. Tripp, Ph.D.
Vaccine and Therapeutic Development
The University of Georgia
Ralph Tripp wants to improve every aspect of fighting infectious diseases – from identifying new pathogens, to diagnosing infection, to providing better treatments for patients.
One of Tripp’s key discoveries has led to the development of an antiviral medicine to fight a flu-like virus that can be fatal in young children and the elderly. In the lab, Tripp found that a natural process called RNA interference could stop the replication of invading Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in cells. A drug based on Tripp’s research has completed clinical trials and is expected to reach the market in 2014.
Tripp also studies influenza and other emerging diseases, with a special interest in zoonotic pathogens, which cross over from animal populations into humans, such as avian flu. Knowing that quick, sensitive detection of these viruses is vitally important for containing pandemic outbreaks, Tripp co-invented a method using a device that can almost instantly detect the presence of viruses, bacteria and other biological agents.
He started with an established technology – Raman spectroscopy – and made it faster and more sensitive by adding silver nanorod arrays. Using the improved device, Tripp defined “fingerprints” for common pathogens, enabling users to immediately identify harmful substances. This enhanced method of spectroscopy is now becoming the gold standard, not only in detecting communicable disease but in evaluating food safety and preventing bio-terrorism.
Seeing the marketability of this device, Tripp founded Argent Diagnostics, a company that produces the nanorod arrays and sells them and their applications to the manufacturer of portable Raman devices. The endeavor is just one of Tripp’s many entrepreneurial forays. Two others are:
- Hypercell, which develops monoclonal antibodies that show promise as drug treatments for animals that did not benefit from vaccines
- VacCell, which is focused on enhancing vaccine production by genetically engineering cell lines currently employed in vaccine manufacturing.
A highly collaborative researcher, Tripp works with universities and health centers across the United States and around the world, in Australia, Ireland, London and Brazil. He is associate director of research for the Influenza Pathogenesis & Immunology Research Center, an NIH Center for Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance, established at UGA and Emory University in 2007 with funding support from GRA. He also co-directs the newly formed Center of Molecular Medicine at UGA.
- Respiratory infection. Determining the mechanisms of immunity and disease pathogenesis associated with respiratory virus infection, e.g., influenza virus and respiratory syncytial viruses.
- RNA interference. Development of RNAi therapeutics and gene silencing to provide respiratory virus intervention strategies; High-Throughput Screening (HTS) to uncover the virus-host interface and reposition drugs for disease intervention
- Virus/pathogen biosensing. Surface-enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS) technology for virus bacteria and other pathogen of biomarker of disease identification.
- Development of nanotechnology for biosensing, drug delivery, and cell and viral imaging.
- Vaccine development (DNA, protein, vector, and attenuated virus) to enhance immunity to respiratory viruses
- Development of vaccine carriers to enhance efficacy at sites of inductive immunity.
- Development of monoclonal antibodies reactive to respiratory virus proteins; pan-reactive human monoclonal antibodies for therapeutic countermeasures
Working with the NIAID Southeast Regional Center for Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance.
During his tenure at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tripp admired the GRA program. The chance to join the ranks of the Eminent Scholars and the vision of GRA VentureLab lured him into an array of new research endeavors. GRA helped make the move possible by investing in technology for BSL2, BSL3 and BSL3Ag+ labs at the Animal Health Research Center at UGA.