NIAID announces research awards to fight emerging infectious diseases

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has awarded approximately $208 million to two programs that support research to better understand the human immune response to emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, including those that may be introduced into a community through acts of bioterrorism.

The grants were awarded to the Cooperative Centers for Translational Research on Human Immunology and Biodefense and the Immune Mechanisms of Virus Control.

NIAID also has received approximately $21 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to supplement these two programs and fund some additional researchers.

The long-term goal of the CCHI and IMVC programs is to identify new vaccines and drug targets.

"A better understanding of how the human immune system responds to these infections should provide new approaches for developing prevention tools and therapeutics," said Anthony S. Fauci, director of NIAID, the lead Institute at the National Institutes of Health responsible for immunology and biodefense research.

The CCHI program, established in 2003, focuses on basic research and preclinical research of potential benefit to humans. CCHI research will include developing new vaccines to protect against infectious diseases such as influenza, dengue fever, anthrax and hepatitis C; understanding how immune protection is achieved; and determining how harmless microorganisms in the lungs, intestines and other mucosal surfaces protect against harmful microbes that enter the body through these sites.

The IMVC program builds on a set of exploratory grants awarded in 2007. The current phase is a substantially larger effort that addresses key questions related to how the immune system responds to viruses.

IMVC investigators will use animal models and conduct studies in people to understand all aspects of the immune response to viruses, including early immune responses (innate, or inborn, immunity) and antibody and immune cell memory responses that protect against repeat infections (adaptive immunity). Because cells of mucosal tissue comprise the primary barrier to many viruses, mucosal immunity in the gut or lungs also will be studied.

Some specific IMVC projects include studying how the immune response in the brain combats rabies virus infection; identifying immune markers that correlate with surviving Ebola infection; and finding new drugs to treat viral infections.

"Developing vaccines and treatments for emerging pathogens continues to be a priority for NIAID," said Daniel Rotrosen, director of the NIAID Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation. "The CCHI and IMVC programs will foster collaboration among many talented investigators working toward the common goal of understanding the human immune response to infectious diseases and developing more effective measures to prevent and treat infection."

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