Forty years of vaccine research in far-flung places helped a University of Maryland professor land an important role in the fight against Ebola.

Dr. Myron “Mike” Levine was in Mali on Friday, helping supervise the inoculation of 40 local volunteers with an experimental Ebola vaccine developed by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a unit of British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline.

The trial is taking place at the Center for Vaccine Development-Mali, a facility Levine and the Malian Ministry of Health established in 2001 in the capital city of Bamako. Human trials are also being done in Oxford, England, and planned in Gambia, west of Mali.

The Malian facility, housed at a former leprosy institute, is an offshoot of the Center for Vaccine Development that Levine founded at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore in 1974. There are other branches in Malawi and Chile, but the Malian facility, now an independent sister institution, has become so well known that when the World Health Organization assembled an international consortium in August to advance Ebola vaccine research, it asked Levine and Samba Sow, his counterpart in Mali, to help.

“CVD-Mali is a world leader among developing countries in evaluating vaccines,” Levine said in a telephone interview. “We nurtured it since it was an acorn. It’s now a wonderful oak tree.”

He said several hundred people work at the facility, which has helped to introduce five vaccines for other deadly diseases, including forms of influenza and meningococcal infection. Workers are trained in Baltimore, Levine said.

He said Mali also was chosen for the Ebola project because it shares a border with Guinea, one of three nearby countries where Ebola has killed more than 4,000 people. The other hard-hit countries are Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“It was felt important to first test the vaccine in health workers in neighboring countries,” Levine said.

The 70-year-old physician said he’s preparing to retire as director of the center he founded but will remain with the medical school as an associate dean, focusing on research instead of administration.

“My love is to do research,” Levine said.

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