The Tampa Bay Research Institute was originally founded in 1981 as Showa University Research Institute, being named after the original donor, Showa University, a private university in Japan and the alma mater of Dr. Akiko Tanaka.
Creating the Institute was always the dream of Akiko. As a young child she had survived the horrors of the influenza epidemic of 1957. It was this epidemic that took the lives of many of her schoolmates and best friends. When she asked her mother why she survived when others died, her mother replied, “You have a very strong resistance and were protected.” Many years later, Akiko learned that this resistance was due to the ability of her immune system to protect her from disease.
The original research performed at the Institute was headed by two world-renowned virologists, Meihan Nonoyama and Akiko Tanaka. The research was focused on elucidating the relationship between herpes viruses (EBV and MDV) infections and the development of cancer. Then, with the emergence of the AIDS outbreak, the Institute's research program was expanded to include investigations of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and the development of vaccines and therapeutics to prevent or eliminate HIV infections.
As the studies of EBV, MDV, and HIV continued it became clear that these viruses acted much differently in the test tube than they did in the body. All three of these viruses were found to infect key cells of the immune system - EBV was found to infect B lymphocytes, MDV was found to infect monocytes and T lymphocytes, while HIV was found to infect T lymphocytes and numerous other critical immune cells. While the viruses could infect these same cells in the test tube, the diseases that these viruses induced could not be replicated in the test tube. As it turns out, the monocytes, and B and T lymphocytes are key components of the immune system and infection of these cells in the body significantly alters how these cells, and subsequently, how the immune system reacts. This cannot be replicated in the test tube. Therefore, in order to understand how these viruses create disease, and how best to control them, we must understand how they interact with the immune system.
Interestingly, the same can be said for cancer and a myriad of other diseases. Recent cancer studies have found that cancer cells can secrete factors that block the immune system from attacking them. If this immune suppression can be overcome, the immune system can attack and even completely eliminate the cancer. Likewise, reversing the immune suppression induced by viruses and other infectious agents, or suppressing the abnormal immune responses associated with autoimmune diseases and allergies and asthma, can significantly improve recovery from these conditions.
For these reasons, in 1995, the Institute began focusing its research on the development of natural product-based therapeutics that, through the engagement and modulation of the immune system, could be effective in the cure and prevention of cancer and chronic diseases.
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