Athens, Ga. – The emergence of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, in April has highlighted the influenza virus’s ability to constantly change. Natural and selective pressures allow the virus to evolve in ways that make it increasingly resistant to anti-viral drugs. The loss of immunity to the virus requires annual reformulation of vaccines to prevent against potentially pandemic strains.
In an effort to address the ongoing H1N1 pandemic and to prepare against future ones, leading influenza experts from around the world will gather at the University of Georgia for the third annual “Immunobiology of Influenza Virus Infection” conference at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education Conference Center and Hotel on July 26-28.
The multi-disciplinary conference will provide a forum for virologists, immunologists and vaccine researchers from academia, government and industry to discuss advances in basic and applied influenza research. It is organized by Andrew Park in the Odum School of Ecology, as well as Georgia Research Alliance Scholar Ralph Tripp and Professor S. Mark Tompkins in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s department of infectious diseases.
“While the original program for the conference was prepared prior to the H1N1 virus outbreak, many of the speakers have been involved in the response to the outbreak and the format has allowed us to include cutting edge research on the pandemic virus,” said Tompkins.
A particular aim of this year’s conference is to advance the use of mathematical modeling tools to predict the behavior of influenza virus and its interaction with hosts and the environment, added Tompkins.
“The real-time study of the evolution of the emergence and spread of the H1N1 virus, combined with modeling tools available today, is enabling researchers to advance the predictive science of pandemic influenza,” he said. “This conference will provide an early opportunity to share information on, better understand, and prepare for this evolving H1N1 pandemic.”
The conference features keynote speaker Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health at the National Institute of Health, who will discuss the insights derived from his studies of the 1918 “Spanish” influenza on July 26.
Taubenberger earned his medical degree in 1986 and his Ph.D. in 1987, both from the Medical College of Virginia. He completed a residency in pathology at the National Cancer Institute and holds dual board certifications in anatomic pathology and in molecular genetic pathology from the American Board of Pathology and the American Board of Medical Genetics.
Prior to joining NIAID in 2006, he served as chief of the division of molecular pathology at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C., where he initiated a project in 1995 to recover the 1918 influenza virus from autopsy tissues of its victims. His laboratory published the first 1918 sequence fragments in 1997. With these and other such investigations, Taubenberger hopes to shed light on the emergence, evolution, and severity of future influenza pandemics as well as seasonal influenza.
“Influenza virus is a major research focus for researchers at the University of Georgia. The constantly changing virus and movement across species drives a critical need for improved surveillance, diagnostic tools, vaccines and antiviral drugs,” said Tompkins. “Faculty in the departments of infectious diseases, population health, pathology, microbiology, cell biology and others are working collaboratively across campus, nationally, and internationally to address these needs.”
In 2007, the National Institutes of Health awarded the University of Georgia a $7.4 million contract to collaborate with Emory University through its Regional Center for Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance. Emory and UGA will receive a total of $32.8 million for over seven years for the Influenza Pathogenesis and Immunology Research Center, one of six national influenzas centers funded by the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The UGA Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study is also an external partner in a second $22.5 million NIH CEIRS contract to the University of Minnesota established to support parts of their avian influenza surveillance program.
The conference is partially supported through a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Sponsors for the event include the IPIRC, Thermo Scientific, AerovectRx, the Southeastern Center for Emerging Biologic Threats at Emory University, the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine’s departments of pathology and infectious diseases, the UGA Office of the Vice President for Research and the UGA Biomedical and Health Sciences Institute.
For more information about the conference or to register, see http://www.virus-eid.org.