DHHS, NIH News  
National Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

For Immediate Release
Thursday, October 9, 2008

Anne A. Oplinger

NIAID Awards Contracts to Search for Protein Markers of Disease

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded two five-year contracts to establish Clinical Proteomics Centers for Infectious Diseases and Biodefense. The contracts were awarded to the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), Galveston, and to the Canadian firm Caprion Proteomics, Montreal. Researchers at the centers will analyze human blood and other tissue samples from completed or ongoing clinical studies with the aim of discovering proteins that could serve as biomarkers of infectious disease.

A biomarker is a measurable biological substance that acts as an indicator of either health or disease. One biomarker test now used by doctors is the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test for prostate cancer screening. Elevated levels of PSA protein in the blood may signal the presence of cancerous cells in the prostate gland.

Scientists at the new NIAID-funded centers will look for proteins produced by disease-causing agents or by the immune system in response to infection. "Identifying specific biomarkers that are present in infected people — but absent in uninfected people — would give researchers new leads in understanding how microbes cause disease and how the body reacts to those microbes," says Maureen Beanan, Ph.D., a program officer in NIAID's Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. This, in turn, could guide development of diagnostics, therapies or vaccines, she adds.

The first two diseases to be studied at the new centers will be dengue fever, a viral illness spread by mosquitoes, and brucellosis, a bacterial disease that can cause severe influenza-like symptoms. Once discovered and characterized, any candidate biomarkers found by the centers' scientists will be made freely available to the research community at large for further development.

The centers also will encourage clinical infectious disease researchers from other institutions to submit clinical samples to be assessed for the presence of potential biomarker proteins, notes Dr. Beanan. This service will be provided at no charge to the requestors.

The five-year contract to UTMB is estimated to be up to $10.9 million. The five-year contract to Caprion Proteomics is estimated to be up to $12.9 million.

Besides the new clinical proteomics centers, NIAID has established numerous research resources in the areas of bioinformatics, functional and structural genomics, and gene and protein sequencing. Together, these resources are assisting scientists to better understand interactions between disease-causing organisms and the human immune response. For more information about these resources, see http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/pathogenGenomics.

NIAID conducts and supports research — at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide — to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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