Six hospitals will share a federal grant of about $161 million over the next seven years to significantly boost influenza research and expand an international surveillance program on the virus, government officials announced last week.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health, will fund the creation of six Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance at the hospitals. It will build upon an existing program formed jointly by the institute and 56-bed St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., about two years after the 1997 Hong Kong outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza.
Anthony Fauci, a physician who is director of the federal agency, said the funds$23 million per year spread over seven yearswill further our understanding of influenza viruses, and generate the information and tools necessary to better prepare and respond to a pandemic situation.
Under the program at St. Jude, researchers studied influenza viruses in aquatic birds and live-bird markets in Hong Kong, helping shed light on the progression and history of the viruses. Scientists also conducted training courses, developed diagnostic tools to detect animal flu viruses and generated vaccines.
Those efforts will now be expanded at St. Jude and the five other designated centers of excellence: the University of California at Los Angeles; the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Emory University, Atlanta; Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York; and the University of Rochester (N.Y.).
This is really going to encourage collaboration between all of these centers, said Richard Webby, a co-principal investigator for the St. Jude Center of Excellence research program. And its going to make it a little easier to coordinate the efforts going on around the country. Therell be a lot more interaction.
Institute officials said the centers will concentrate on gauging the prevalence of avian influenza in animals that routinely come into close contact with humans; understanding how flu viruses evolve, adapt and transmit infection; and identifying immunological factors that can determine whether a flu virus causes death or only a mild illness.
Webby said the St. Jude center will perform both surveillance of influenza viruses and basic research under the new contract. Center investigators also will monitor viruses in several states and more than a dozen countries. The center will track children admitted to hospitals in China for influenza and establish a surveillance program for severe acute respiratory syndrome in Southeast Asia.