|NIAID Expands Capability for Influenza Research
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID),
part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), today announced
it is awarding $23 million per year for seven years to establish
six Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance.
Collectively, the centers will expand NIAID’s influenza surveillance
program internationally and in the United States, and will bolster
influenza research in key areas, including understanding how the
virus causes disease and how the human immune system responds to
infection with the virus. The goal of the newly created centers
is to provide the federal government with important information
to inform public health strategies for controlling and lessening
the impact of seasonal influenza as well as an influenza pandemic.
“The threat of an influenza pandemic is a major source of concern
for the public health community,” says NIAID Director Anthony S.
Fauci, M.D. “The new NIAID Centers of Excellence for Influenza
Research and Surveillance will help expand the federal government’s
existing international and domestic influenza surveillance efforts,
further our understanding of influenza viruses, and generate the
information and tools necessary to better prepare and respond to
a pandemic situation.”
The new awards build upon an ongoing program led by St. Jude Children’s
Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, initiated by NIAID after the
1997 Hong Kong outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in
humans. Under this program, researchers conducted surveillance
of influenza viruses in aquatic birds and live bird markets in
Hong Kong, which helped shed light on the natural history of flu
viruses. Further, scientists conducted training courses in animal
influenza surveillance, developed diagnostic tools to detect animal
flu viruses, and generated viruses suitable for use in developing
human influenza vaccines.
NIAID is expanding the surveillance and research program to now
include six Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance.
Their work will include determining the prevalence of avian influenza
in animals that routinely come into close contact with people;
understanding how flu viruses evolve, adapt and transmit infection;
and identifying immunological factors that can determine whether
a flu virus causes only mild illness or death. Additionally, some
centers will monitor for international and domestic cases of animal
and human influenza to rapidly detect and characterize viruses
that may have pandemic potential and to create vaccine candidates
targeted to those viruses. Ultimately, these studies will lay the
groundwork for developing new and improved control measures for
emerging and reemerging flu viruses.
Summaries of the six NIAID Centers of Excellence for Influenza
Research and Surveillance awards are provided below.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis (principal
investigator — Dr. Robert Webster) Research activities
will involve evaluating antiviral drug regimens and factors that
drive drug resistance; identifying viral markers that may indicate
how a virus becomes deadly, adapts and transmits infection; uncovering
immune system mechanisms that protect against the H5N1 avian
flu virus; and identifying the factors that make animals and
people susceptible to flu virus infection. In addition, St. Jude
will expand its animal surveillance to more than a dozen countries
and multiple U.S. states. St. Jude also will monitor pediatric
populations for flu activity and maintain a surveillance component
to monitor for evidence of the reemergence of the severe acute
respiratory syndrome (SARS). Additionally, the researchers will
explore strategies for controlling influenza outbreaks in agricultural
University of California at Los Angeles (principal investigator — Dr.
Scott Layne) UCLA investigators will monitor animal
influenza internationally and in the states of Alaska, Washington
and California. They also will maintain a high-throughput laboratory
network capable of providing real-time information about circulating
influenza virus strains and antiviral drug resistance—information
that will be most critical during the early stages of an influenza
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (principal investigator — Dr.
Marguerite Pappaiaonou) These researchers will conduct
international and domestic animal flu surveillance covering all
major domestic flight paths of migratory birds. This center also
will carry out a human influenza surveillance study in Thailand
and will monitor U.S. agricultural workers who work with swine.
Emory University, Atlanta (principal investigator — Dr.
Richard Compans) This center will conduct studies to
determine how influenza viruses adapt to new hosts and are transmitted
between different hosts, and analyze human immune responses to
influenza vaccination and infection. The researchers will examine
how human genes might be silenced to decrease or eliminate flu
infections; identify new targets for antiviral medicines; and
evaluate flu transmission between patients and physicians in
the hospital emergency room setting. Emory will also offer a
training program for postdoctoral fellows and veterinarians interested
in influenza and other research performed in a biosafety level
Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City (principal
investigator — Dr. Adolfo Garcia-Sastre) These
researchers will conduct molecular studies to identify influenza
virus genes associated with the development of disease, the adaptability
of flu viruses in birds and mammals, and the transmission of
flu viruses between different hosts.
University of Rochester, Rochester, NY (principal investigator — Dr.
John Treanor) Dr. Treanor and his colleagues will establish
a human surveillance system that will monitor selected communities
in New York for seasonal flu virus infections, and will study
the effectiveness of annual immunization programs using inactivated
or weakened (live, attenuated) flu virus vaccines. The Rochester
center also will perform clinical immunological studies to better
define human immune responses to influenza vaccination and infection.
Additionally, the center will study how flu viruses adapt to
new species of animals.
All of the research findings generated by the NIAID Centers of
Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance will be used
to support and bolster the pandemic influenza preparedness and
response efforts of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
(HHS). NIH is an agency of the HHS.
Visit PandemicFlu.gov (http://www.pandemicflu.gov/)
for one-stop access to U.S. Government information on avian and
NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health. NIAID
supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose and treat
infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted
infections, influenza, tuberculosis, malaria and illness from potential
agents of bioterrorism. NIAID also supports research on basic immunology,
transplantation and immune-related disorders, including autoimmune
diseases, asthma and allergies. News releases, fact sheets and
other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID website
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.