Monday, June 8, 2009

NIAID Renews Funding for National Emerging Infectious Diseases Research Network

ARRA Provides Two-Year Supplementary Funding.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, today announced renewed funding for 10 previously established Regional Centers of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research (RCE). NIAID also awarded funds to Oregon Health & Science University to establish a new RCE to be based in the Pacific Northwest. NIAID funding for the 11 RCEs totals up to approximately $455 million over five years.

NIAID also intends to augment research in the RCEs with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The institute expects to award up to an additional $20 million in the next two years to worthy RCE-based projects. Projects receiving Recovery Act funds must be completed within two years and must demonstrate a high likelihood of delivering significant advances in that time period.

"The Regional Centers of Excellence are a critical component of our national research infrastructure for infectious diseases, and are designed to respond flexibly to changing scientific needs and priorities, says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "Research studies conducted by the RCEs are central to our efforts to develop countermeasures against both endemic and emergent diseases."

Among many projects, RCE researchers are developing new or improved ways to treat, diagnose or prevent illnesses including anthrax, West Nile fever, plague, dengue fever and other emerging infectious diseases. The RCEs also are prepared to provide scientific expertise to first responders in an infectious-disease-related emergency, whether such an emergency arises naturally or through an act of bioterrorism.

An interim evaluation of the RCEs during the first five years of their existence found that the institutions were meeting the goals of the program. "The research accomplishments of RCE-based scientists have been excellent," says Carole Heilman, Ph.D., director of NIAID’s Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. "Importantly, RCE researchers are collaborating extensively and are bringing new investigators into the field of biodefense and emerging infectious disease research."

As measured by publications in highly cited scientific journals, the recent evaluation showed that the centers are achieving their goals of increasing basic knowledge about NIAID-designated Category A, B and C priority pathogens. Priority pathogens include disease organisms, such as plague-causing bacteria, that could be used agents of bioterror as well as microbes such as dengue virus, which pose a large public health burden. The evaluation also showed the centers are contributing to the development of countermeasures such as diagnostics, therapies and vaccines.

"A hallmark of the RCE system is its capacity to tailor research efforts to emerging health issues," notes Dr. Heilman. For example, in 2008, scientists used RCE research resources to develop a new method for rapidly producing human monoclonal antibodies targeted against seasonal influenza virus strains. Monoclonal antibodies could serve as therapy for influenza infections, including, perhaps, newly emerging strains of influenza. RCE-based scientists also assisted the international health community in responding to an outbreak of Marburg hemorrhagic fever in Angola by quickly adapting an existing technology for use in diagnosing Marburg virus infection. During an outbreak of E. coli (a food-borne infection) in the United States in 2006 researchers at an RCE institution assisted in the response by rapidly redirecting funds and personnel to sequence genes of the E. coli strains believed responsible for the outbreak.

The 11 RCEs are distributed across 10 regions of the United States. The first eight RCEs were established in 2003; two more were added in 2005. Each center comprises a lead institution and affiliated academic institutions.

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