The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced today a five-year, $42 million grant to establish a mid-Atlantic Regional Center of Excellence (RCE) for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases. Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech will serve as the genomics and bioinformatics core for the 15-university collaboration led by the University of Maryland.
"Scientists, health professionals and the public have come to recognize that the world's human population comprises a global village," said Mike Levine, director of the center for vaccine development of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and RCE project leader. "Most pathogens, however, have global reservoirs that do not respect national borders. We are pleased that renowned university experts will work together in this strategic and coordinated effort to protect citizens against infectious disease agents and potential bioterrorism threats."
Several diseases including anthrax, hemorrhagic fever, tularemia, and smallpox, as well as public health response research including needle-free immunization programs, will be investigated by this new center. Specifically, VBI will provide high-performance laboratory infrastructure including genomic and gene expression sample analysis. Additionally, VBI will provide supercomputing capabilities and informatics software platforms to connect the numerous collaborators. The RCE team will leverage VBI's PathPort, short for Pathogen Portal, a Department of Defense-funded informatics platform designed to enable data gathering, storage, analysis and integration.
"Understanding the underlying biology of infectious diseases poses incredibly complex challenges," said VBI Director Bruno Sobral. "VBI and other Virginia Tech researchers are pleased to bring genomics and bioinformatics resources to this comprehensive team of scientists that will launch a multi-pronged attack to combat infectious diseases including potential bioterrorism threats. Our goal is nothing short of improving the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of infectious diseases in regions where they exact the highest tolls. As a Commonwealth shared resource, VBI is proud to serve as the genomics and bioinformatics core for this mid-Atlantic consortium."
The mid-Atlantic RCE includes Virginia Tech, the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Virginia, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the University of Pittsburgh, George Washington University, Georgetown University, West Virginia University, Drexel University, the University of Vermont, the University of Missouri, Kansas City, the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, and Virginia Commonwealth University.
"Infectious diseases have become a harsh reality, and our ability to detect and counter this danger depends on having reliable, up-to-date knowledge," stated Virginia Tech President Charles Steger. "With the creation of this regional center, priority research will be expedited so that important discoveries in this area can advance as quickly as possible."
The mid-Atlantic RCE, one of eight regional centers of excellence for biodefense and emerging infectious diseases research announced today, is a key element in its strategic plan for biodefense research. Together, the eight regional centers will focus on developing new and improved comprehensive therapies, vaccines, diagnostics, and other tools to combat the threat of bioterrorism and other emerging and re-emerging diseases. Additional information on NIAID's biodefense program is available at http://www.niaid.nih.gov/biodefense/.
VBI research platform centers on understanding the "disease triangle" of host-pathogen-environment interactions. With bioinformatics, an interdisciplinary merger of information technology and biology, faculty researchers at VBI have been able to interpret and apply vast amounts of biological data generated from basic research. With almost $30 million in research funding, VBI researchers are working to find cures for many diseases of humans, crops, and animals; create high-yield, insect- and disease-resistant crops; and provide bioinformatics information and tools to support further discoveries. For more information about VBI, visit https://www.vbi.vt.edu.