Virginia Tech and Johns Hopkins invest $10 million to combat major human diseases

January 24, 2002

BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 24, 2002 -- Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech and the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Bloomberg School of Public Health have announced a $10 million bioinformatics research collaboration to target human infectious diseases. Each university will invest a minimum of $1 million per year for five years to better understand tuberculosis, AIDS, malaria, measles, and other deadly illnesses. Worldwide, more than 17 million people each year succumb to these and other infectious diseases.

This collaboration will provide much-needed information to discern how infectious pathogens spread, how pathogen genomes change over time because of various environmental factors, and how humans respond to pathogens on the molecular, cellular, and organismal level. Technologies for rapid detection, identification, and remediation will be developed as part of this research. VBI and JHU will also pursue significant additional extramural funding for this effort.

"This effort will significantly advance our understanding of interactions between infectious disease pathogens, hosts, and their environments," says VBI Director Bruno Sobral. "With this partnership, we will be able to compare gene regulation across different organisms and evaluate human immune responses to numerous pathogens simultaneously. This enormous amount of data will then be compiled into an integrated pathogen database to form a common asset against these global maladies," he says.

The bioinformatics capabilities at VBI will allow comparisons of multiple human responses to different pathogens as opposed to traditional models that looked at only a single response for one disease. Experiments that were traditionally conducted on a single pathogen in a petri dish will now be performed on supercomputers housed in VBI's core computing facility. The new technology will compliment the wealth of medical and molecular biology research being conducted by the Johns Hopkins

"We have burning scientific questions we are trying to answer about the nature of many infectious diseases," says Diane Griffin, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "This technology will enable us to explore new approaches to find these answers and expand our knowledge of parasites and microorganisms," adds Griffin.

"The world has seen infectious disease outbreaks that have decimated millions of people and little progress is being made to eradicate some of the world's most serious diseases. It is vital that experts in public health and bioinformatics work together to develop tools to react to epidemic problems and to, more importantly, eradicate them. This collaboration will be a crucial component to the well-being of the global community," says Charles Steger, president of Virginia Tech.

The project will begin in February 2002. During its first phase, researchers will study how disease parasites resuscitate from dormancy, model cellular responses to viruses, collect data from malaria outbreak sites in cooperation with local medical centers, and develop gene chips to assess virulence factors of pathogens. The second phase will involve computational analysis to understand mechanisms of disease resistance and the development of new tools for prevention, diagnosis, and cure.

"AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis are among the great scourges of our planet and are responsible for 25 percent of all deaths worldwide. The recent anthrax attacks have also reminded us all of the global risk posed by infectious disease, regardless of where it arises -- and of the growing risk from new infectious agents, natural and potentially man-made," says Alfred Sommer, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with VBI in our efforts to find new ways of preventing and eradicating these diseases."
VBI PR contact: Neysa Call 540-231-1259
VBI main office number: 540-231-2100 E-mail:

Virginia Tech

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