Campus News Science & Technology

Emory and UGA receive $3.6 million NIH influenza contract

National influenza centers integrate research to improve pandemic preparedness

Athens, Ga. – A partnership between Emory University and the University of Georgia that plays a key role in the nation’s influenza research and surveillance programs has received a $3.6 million contract, with potential funding up to a total of $26.7 million available over seven years, from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The Emory-UGA Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance was originally launched and funded in 2007, when the NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health, created a network of six national centers.

The Emory-UGA CEIRS is led by principal investigator Dr. Walter Orenstein, Emory professor of medicine and associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center, and co-principal investigator Richard Compans, Emory professor of microbiology and immunology. Ralph Tripp, professor and chair of animal health vaccine development at the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, is project leader at UGA, with co-project leader Mark Tompkins. Hualan Chen is project leader at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China. A group of other researchers will lead individual cores and projects under the contract.

The Emory-UGA CEIRS will focus on surveillance of swine influenza viruses and investigations of swine immune responses to virus infection. With collaborators at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute in China, animal surveillance efforts will include swine and poultry. Basic research projects at Emory-UGA CEIRS will include efforts to better understand the human immune response to influenza vaccination, including responses of pregnant women. Planned studies of long-lasting flu antibodies could aid in the development of influenza vaccines that would provide years-long immunity to multiple strains of flu.

“Our research team at UGA is excited to continue our multidisciplinary studies investigating the natural history of influenza virus in swine with our CEIRS and Emory colleagues, and swine industry partners,” Tripp said. “The objectives of the proposal address questions of substantial public health interest that include defining the overall prevalence and diversity of swine influenza viruses in pig populations in the U.S. and understanding the risk to humans. Our UGA research team has the resources, biosecurity facilities and acumen to address influenza virus replication and reassortment in swine and related animal models and develop disease intervention approaches to offset threats related to emerging influenza viruses.”

The new NIAID contracts fund five institutions that now comprise the CEIRS network. In addition to Emory and UGA, these are the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York; Johns Hopkins University; St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; and the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The CEIRS network conducts collaborative influenza research that is closely integrated with surveillance data from human and animal populations in the U.S. and around the world. The network played a significant role in the nation’s response to the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic by quickly characterizing the virus and performing pre-clinical testing, leading to vaccine development.

“We are extremely pleased to again be part of this important national and international research and surveillance network,” said Orenstein. “It is critically important to have a coordinated and focused response to the emerging public health threat of globally circulating influenza viruses. Our center is well-positioned to continue our research into understanding how influenza viruses can become pandemic threats and the factors that can lead to optimal immune response to emerging flu viruses, including basic understanding of immunology that can underpin development of vaccines active against all strains of influenza (i.e., universal vaccines) leading to long-term immunity.”

Under its new funding, the international CEIRS network will continue to conduct basic laboratory research and integrate discoveries with surveillance data and virus sample collection, particularly in locations where new influenza outbreaks are known to originate, such as Southeast Asia. Collaborations are also established or planned at more than two dozen sites in the Far East, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, South America, Europe and Australia.

Further information about the NIAID CEIRS program can be found in the NIH news release and the Emory news release.