A research team at the University of Rochester Medical Center has been awarded $26 million to establish a research center with the goal of making seasonal influenza and future influenza pandemics less deadly.
The seven-year contract, announced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, will create the New York Influenza Center of Excellence (NYICE), a collaboration of the University of Rochester, Cornell University, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and community partners.
NYICE will be one of six centers nationally that together will receive approximately $138 million in new flu research funding over seven years.
The flu pandemic of 1918 killed more than 50 million people worldwide. Despite new vaccine technologies developed since then, flu remains the most common cause of vaccine-preventable death in the United States, causing 36,000 deaths annually and up to 200,000 hospital stays. In addition, the H5N1 subtype of avian flu viruses (“bird flu”) continues to spread with migrating waterfowl, increasing the risk of bird-to-human infection and the chance that the virus will become more easily passed from person to person.
Drugs are available to treat influenza ? amantadine, rimantadine, zanamivir and oseltamivir ? but many flu strains have developed drug-resistant strains. Researchers do not yet know the degree of protection that experimental bird flu vaccines currently under development will provide, and authorities do not yet have the ability to stockpile approved, effective vaccines in advance of an outbreak.
Each of the six new centers will focus on basic research, surveillance studies or both. Teams will breakdown the molecular and environmental factors that influence the transmission and evolution of flu viruses and further study the immune system?s reaction to them. Others will seek to identify strains with pandemic potential, to create new vaccine candidates or to bolster pandemic preparedness. Along with the University of Rochester, recipients of the new contracts are Emory University, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, St. Jude Children?s Research Hospital, University of California at Los Angeles and University of Minnesota at Minneapolis.
“The current strategy of relying on vaccines that match each year?s particular strain imposes severe limitations on our ability to prepare for a pandemic,” said John J. Treanor M.D., professor of Medicine and of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “Our goal is to transform our understanding of influenza through intensive and synergistic exploration of the virus, the human host, and the immune system. We hope that this will lead to more effective control of the viruses through a single vaccine that can be effective against many strains,” said Treanor, principal investigator for the new center.