U OF M awarded $22.5 million NIH contract to study avian influenza

April 02, 2007

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), today named the University of Minnesota as one of six sites across the country that will establish a Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance.

The Minnesota NIH/NIAID Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance (MCEIRS) will receive $22.5 million over seven years to focus on disease and virologic surveillance of avian influenza viruses, providing the federal government with useful information and public health strategies for controlling the impact of an influenza pandemic.

"The Center of Excellence established at the U of M will work to rapidly identify and characterize influenza viruses that have pandemic potential by monitoring domestic and international wild bird, poultry, and swine populations," said Marguerite Pappaioanou, D.V.M., Ph.D., principal investigator and professor of infectious disease and epidemiology at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. "The center will be prepared to respond to research and public health needs in a time of increasing concern over the possibility of pandemic flu."

The MCEIRS will perform animal flu surveillance in eight countries and multiple states. Domestic research will include: monitoring wild birds in U.S. wetlands; identifying low pathologic influenza strains in Minnesota poultry; characterizing swine viruses in animal populations from Minnesota to North Carolina; and conducting virologic surveillance in live bird markets in the Midwest and Northeast. Internationally, the center will conduct avian influenza surveillance of people, poultry, pigs, dogs, cats, and wild birds in rural Thailand; wild waterfowl in Vietnam; wild bird populations in Laos; and commercial poultry operations in other Asian countries.

The majority of diagnostic testing and virus characterization will occur at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and Genomic Center. Faculty will obtain and characterize multiple types of influenza viruses, adding to the world database that supports research on how humans become infected with influenza, what factors influence the severity of illness, and the development of vaccines and antiviral medications.

"This award showcases the strength of the University of Minnesota's interdisciplinary corridor of research in infectious disease," said Frank B. Cerra, M.D., the University's Senior Vice President of Health Sciences. "The University will help pave the way in influenza research and contribute valuable and influential information to the federal government regarding pandemic preparedness."

Together with University strengths in veterinary medicine, public health, and supercomputing, the MCEIRS' external partners include: Chulalongkorn University in Thailand; Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia; the Wildlife Conservation Society; the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center; Cargill, Inc.; the Minnesota State Board of Animal Health; the Minnesota Department of Agriculture; and the Minnesota Department of Health.

Key advisors to the center will be Michael Osterholm, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health; David A. Halverson, D.V.M., professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine; and Vivek Kapur, Ph.D., B.V.Sc., director of the Advanced Genetic Analysis Center and professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.

In addition to the University of Minnesota, other Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance will be located at Emory University, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the University of Rochester, the University of California at Los Angeles, and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

University of Minnesota

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