World’s top flu scientists to gather at UGA conference

World’s top flu scientists to gather at UGA conference: Nobel Laureate Peter C. Doherty to speak

Athens, Ga. – More than 150 of the world’s leading influenza researchers will gather at a University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine conference to discuss the latest advances in understanding how the virus interacts with its host and the mechanisms that underlie immunity. The conference, “Immunobiology of Influenza Virus Infection: Approaches for an Emerging Zoonotic Disease,” will be held on campus July 29-31.

The multi-disciplinary conference will provide a forum for interchange between virologists, immunologists and vaccine researchers from academia, government and industry on aspects of basic and applied influenza research. The objectives of the conference are to speed the application of advances in influenza research from the lab bench to the bedside, to improve understanding of the disease and to develop better countermeasures to prevent and control influenza. It is organized by Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar Ralph A. Tripp, S. Mark Tompkins and department head Fred Quinn in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s department of infectious diseases, as well as Harry Dickerson, associate dean for research and graduate affairs.

“This meeting will serve as a catalyst for the advancement of influenza research by connecting scientists,” Tripp said. “The goal is to create an environment conducive to information exchange, the generation of new ideas and the acceleration of applications of this knowledge that will benefit society directly.”

The conference features keynote speaker and Nobel Laureate Peter C. Doherty from the University of Melbourne, who will discuss new developments in vaccine design on July 29.

“This conference is attracting scientists from around the world, a reflection of the University of Georgia’s position as one of the leading institutions conducting research on infectious disease, and particularly the influenza virus,” said Sheila W. Allen, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. “The University of Georgia is honored to host this conference for exchanging information and forming collaborations among the world’s most influential scientists in virology and immunology research. This forum is being held to share essential knowledge that will accelerate the development of diagnostic and therapeutic strategies to protect human and animal health.”

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded the University of Georgia a $7.4 million contract to collaborate with Emory University through its new Regional Center for Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance. Emory and UGA will receive a total of $32.8 million over seven years from the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for one of six new national influenza centers.

“The majority of emerging infectious diseases are of zoonotic origin-transmissible between humans and animals, causing infection in both species,” said Tripp, who also serves as the NIAID center’s associate director for research. “The majority of the emerging or re-emerging human viruses lack an effective vaccine or anti-viral drug treatment, and the recent emergence of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 emphasizes this unmet need.”

At UGA, Tripp works with GRA Eminent Scholar and Caswell Eidson Chair in Poultry Medicine Egbert Mundt, professor Zhen Fu and assistant professors Mark Tompkins and Jeff Hogan to explore the genetic factors that allow viruses to spread from animals to humans, how the virus changes as it moves through different species and the factors that play a role in the ability of viruses to cause disease in different species. The researchers also explore the ability of current antiviral drugs to target viruses and work to develop new antivirals based on strategies that silence the gene expression of viruses. In addition, the UGA scientists study how human genes might be “silenced” to decrease or eliminate flu infections to identify new targets for antiviral medicines.

Last year, the College of Veterinary Medicine opened a state-of-the-art 75,000-square-foot facility, the Animal Health Research Center (AHRC), completed through efforts by the State of Georgia, the GRA, UGA, the College of Veterinary Medicine and others. The AHRC is designed to conduct simultaneous research on small and large animals in one of the most secure facilities (BSL3/BSL3-Ag) for a wide variety of animal diseases affecting swine, poultry, horses, cattle, wildlife, companion animals and humans. It is the most technologically advanced facility located on a university campus and is dedicated to studying emerging infectious diseases that affect both animal and human health.

Founded in 1946, the College of Veterinary Medicine is dedicated to training future veterinarians, providing services to animal owners and veterinarians and conducting research to improve the health of animals as well as people. The College enrolls 96 students each fall out of more than 500 who apply. It has more than 130 faculty members.