UGA's Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases receives grant to train Brazilian scientists

December 16, 2004

The Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases (CTEGD) at the University of Georgia has received a $1.2 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center to provide informatics training to Brazilian researchers. The grant will help a Brazilian ministry of health laboratory (the Centro de Pesquisas René Rachou - FIOCRUZ) develop both the infrastructure and the scientific expertise to apply advanced information management technologies to tropical disease research.

"There is a critical need for training in the area of parasitic diseases," said Dan Colley, director of CTEGD. "Students trained in bioinformatics in the countries most affected by these diseases will help provide the needed researchers to do future cutting-edge science on these major public health problems."

The first trainee, computer scientist Adriana de Andrade Oliveira, is slated to arrive at UGA by January.

"We envision training a total of 22 people," said Jessica Kissinger, assistant professor of genetics at UGA and principal investigator. "The goal isn't just to train a few people to do something. It is to make this place [the collaborating laboratory in Brazil] self-sustainable by the end of five years."

Collaborating institutions include UGA, George Washington University and the FIOCRUZ (Brazil's ministry of health) in Rio de Janeiro (IOC) and Belo Horizonte (CPqRR).

Participants in this program will come from the FIOCRUZ laboratory in Belo Horizonte, a research facility that specializes in studies of tropical parasites, their vectors and their hosts. During the five-year project, trainees will develop the analysis infrastructure to support two NIH-funded studies already underway on the parasitic worm that causes schistosomiasis, a tropical disease that affects more than 200 million people worldwide.

The grant will provide trainees with opportunities to work in laboratories at UGA or George Washington University and will support attendance at specialized courses in other parts of the world. Three annual workshops will be offered in Brazil, and a database containing comprehensive information about the schistosome parasite will be housed at the Belo Horizonte laboratory by the end of the project.

"Informatics is science without borders," Kissinger said. "There's no reason that 'third world countries' can't compete on an equal basis with the rest of the world in this field. It's not often you're given a chance to do something that you think will make a difference."

Fogarty International, the international component of the NIH, aims to "reduce disparities in global health" by supporting research worldwide. In 2004 only seven of these training grants were awarded to UGA, Harvard, Stanford, Tufts, Tulane, the University of Washington and Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"Successfully competing for this NIH training grant is a great accomplishment for Jessie and her collaborators," Colley said. "I am especially pleased from the perspective of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global diseases, because it epitomizes both our research and training goals. It also strongly complements our Ellison Medical Foundation bidirectional, international exchange training grant, which supports undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars."
UGA's Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, founded in 1998, fosters multidisciplinary research on parasites and vectors that cause various tropical diseases. The center currently participates in international research collaborations and student exchanges with universities and research institutes in Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya and Mali.

University of Georgia

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