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St. Jude again designated Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has been awarded another seven-year contract by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, as a Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance (CEIRS).
St. Jude is one of five U.S. research institutions selected for the CEIRS network. The federally funded collaboration brings together basic and clinical researchers to advance understanding and response to influenza, particularly pandemic flu strains that pose a global health threat. Total funding for all centers in the first year is about $23 million.
Swine H3N2 flu virus
Image by Bryan S. Kaplan, Ph.D., and Sharon Frase
Flu infections remain a leading cause of illness and death worldwide. During an average U.S. flu season, the virus is linked to approximately 36,000 deaths and 114,000 hospitalizations. Flu is highly contagious and poses a particular risk to the very old, the very young as well as cancer patients and others with compromised immune systems.
At St. Jude, the federal funds will help support an international flu surveillance network focused on wild birds and domestic animals. The network includes sites in the U.S., Canada, Bangladesh, China, Colombia and Egypt. Birds serve as the world’s reservoir of flu viruses and the source of new pandemic viruses. St. Jude researchers are particularly interested in understanding how some avian flu viruses jump from infecting birds to infecting humans and other mammals while others do not.
“Recent years have brought an unprecedented number of human infections from these animal flu viruses, including H1N1, H7N9 and H5N1. Programs like CEIRS will help us make the breakthroughs needed to stop or prevent future outbreaks,” said Richard Webby, Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases and St. Jude CEIRS principal investigator. The St. Jude co-principal investigator is Stacey Schultz-Cherry, Ph.D., St. Jude infectious diseases associate member. Webby is also director of the St. Jude-based World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds.
In addition to surveillance, the funds will help St. Jude researchers studying the human immune response to flu, risk factors like obesity that are associated with flu complications, flu transmission as well as ecological factors that help maintain H5N1 avian flu at endemic levels in Southeast Asia poultry populations. The contract also supports the hospital’s ongoing role in developing flu vaccine seed stock that could be used to speed production of new flu vaccines.
The CEIRS program was established in 2007 and built on a St. Jude-led effort launched in response to a 1997 Hong Kong outbreak of H5N1. The success of that research, which led to new diagnostic tools to detect animal flu viruses and viruses for use in human vaccine development, led to expanded federal support nationally for flu research and surveillance.
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