The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded UC Irvine $45 million over five years for infectious disease research.
The renewal grant, which is the campus’s largest ever, went to the Pacific-Southwest Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research and its director, Dr. Alan Barbour, a UCI infectious disease expert. Created in May 2005 with a four-year, $40 million NIAID grant, the center is one of only 11 federally funded research sites dedicated to countering threats from bioterrorism agents and emerging infections.
Pacific-Southwest researchers are located at UCI and 19 other universities and institutes in California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii. These include UCLA, USC and the City of Hope.
“Our center brings together some of the region’s best scientists to cooperate in research teams. Each person brings a special expertise. Our common goal is prevention and cure of illness by some of the most serious pathogens facing people in the U.S., Latin America and Pacific Rim countries,” Barbour said. “We appreciate the new vote of confidence by the National Institutes of Health.”
The center’s main objective, he said, is to provide the science for creating a defense against emerging diseases, like dengue fever, and potential bioterrorism agents, like the botulism toxin. It also seeks to train next-generation scientists and educate researchers about lab safety.
“While basic research on these infections and immunity to them is at the core of the center, we recognize the importance of the timely translation of our findings into products and other applications that people can actually use,” Barbour said. “We’ve made considerable progress, and we’re ready to keep moving ahead.”
With the grant, center researchers will continue work on and start new efforts for:
- Improved protection from and treatment of dengue fever, a mosquito-transmitted viral disease that infects millions worldwide. They also have advanced understanding of why dengue fever can sometimes be fatal, especially among children.
- Improved detection and treatment of the botulism toxin. Considered one of the most potent, it can contaminate food and cause paralysis and death with only a tiny dose.
- Improved understanding of and vaccine development for bacterial and viral diseases carried by animals and acquired by humans through either direct contact or an insect or tick. These include tularemia (also known as rabbit fever), Lyme disease, West Nile encephalitis and Lassa fever.
- Improved detection of and vaccine development for coccidioidomycosis (also known as valley fever), a fungal disease that primarily affects the lungs. It occurs in California and other parts of the southwestern U.S. and in northern Mexico.
“An important part of our work is to find better methods for diagnosing infectious diseases in shorter amounts of time so that appropriate therapy can be started as soon as possible,” said UCI’s Michael Buchmeier, the center’s deputy director. “Our other efforts will focus on new treatments and new vaccines to prevent infections from occurring.”
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