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NYMC Researcher, Doris J. Bucher, Ph.D.: Fighting Influenza’s Deadly Reach

  Doris J. Bucher, Ph.D. headshot
  Doris J. Bucher, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
of Microbiology and Immunology

As many as 646,000 people succumb to the flu every year worldwide—yet that number would be much greater if not for Doris J. Bucher, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology at New York Medical College (NYMC).  In her laboratory in Valhalla, N.Y., Dr. Bucher and her associates are responsible for developing flu seed stock for the production of the world’s annual supply of influenza vaccine.  Last year, the strain created by Dr. Bucher’s lab comprised the H3N2 component of the influenza vaccine, for the approximately 400 million doses of flu vaccine produced worldwide this year.

An undeniable force in the fight to limit the flu’s deadly reach, Dr. Bucher was inspired to focus on the flu as a researcher following her Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley and a post-doc at UCLA, when she was invited to join the lab of internationally renowned flu vaccine expert, the late Edwin D. Kilbourne, M.D.

Since then, she has earned a reputation for having one of the best “green thumbs” in engineering viruses that yield high amounts of flu vaccine; using the Kilbourne approach of high yield reassortment, she and her lab have made two to three components of the three to four components of the flu vaccine every year since she began in 2004.

In fact, during the 2009 H1N1 (Swine Flu) pandemic, Dr. Bucher led her lab in the preparation of the vaccine seed, which they accomplished in about three weeks, and which ultimately provided vaccine protection against the Swine Flu outbreak.  At that time, the prevailing wisdom was that all flu vaccines should be made using ‘reverse genetics’ (rg).  As such, nearly all other labs had abandoned the Kilbourne reassortment approach for rg, which didn’t grow as well as Dr. Bucher’s vaccine seed.

Today Dr. Bucher continues to make improvements to vaccine development with grants and contracts from the vaccine manufacturers and BARDA.  Speaking to the looming threat of the next big global pandemic, Dr. Bucher says this: “There is worldwide monitoring to identify new types of flu with pandemic potential.  We have extensive use of rapid detection systems and accelerated methods to sequence flu isolates— we are doing everything possible to prevent another outbreak.”