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NIH Launches Effort to Define Markers of Human Immune Responses to Infection and Vaccination

Posted Aug 10 2010 10:01pm

Recovery Act Enables Research That Could Help Improve Vaccines and Therapeutics

A new nationwide research initiative has been launched to define changes in the human immune system, using human and not animal studies, in response to infection or to vaccination. Six U. S.-based Human Immune Phenotyping Centers will receive a total of $100 million over five years to conduct this research.

Funding for the centers is provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. Support for the first year of this initiative will come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“Recognizing the differences in immune system activity before, during and after exposure to an infectious agent or vaccine will help in the development of safer, more effective therapeutics and vaccines,” says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “This research effort also will contribute to the ongoing evolution in our ability to study the immune system.”

Investigators will analyze samples from well-characterized groups, including children, the elderly, and people with autoimmune diseases such as lupus. These groups represent diverse populations with respect to age, genetics, gender and ethnicity. The research teams will examine immune system elements of these populations before and after exposure to naturally acquired infections or to vaccines or vaccine components. The profile that will emerge of the body’s response to vaccination will be based on the most sophisticated and comprehensive assays currently available. This will enable new approaches to examining vaccine safety, not just of individual vaccines but of the processes of immunization in general.

Their studies will focus on immune responses to vaccines against specific viruses and bacteria, such as influenza and pneumococcus, as well as to infection with West Nile virus. The investigators will take advantage of technological developments and advances in creating databases and developing mathematical models to identify and analyze the complex changes in immune profiles. 

Each awardee will contribute to the establishment of a centralized infrastructure to collect, characterize and store human samples and analyze the large data sets that will be generated. Eventually, the centers will gather the information from this effort into a centralized Web-based database they will make available to the scientific community to promote and support human immunology research.

“This research effort represents a major expansion of efforts to define the principles of human immune regulation, instead of relying on findings from animal models that have limitations and cannot always be extrapolated to people,” says Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., director of the Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation at NIAID. “The knowledge gained also will improve our understanding of the range of vaccine responses in particular subpopulations, including newborns, young children, the elderly, patients taking immunosuppressive medications and those with underlying diseases of the immune system, such as allergy and autoimmune diseases.”

The following six core institutions and principal investigators will participate in the inaugural program:

  • Baylor Research Institute, Dallas – Jacques Banchereau, Ph.D.
  • Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston – Ellis Reinherz, M.D.
  • Emory University, Atlanta – Bali Pulendran, Ph.D.
  • Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. – Gregory Poland, M.D.
  • Stanford University, Calif. – Mark Davis, Ph.D.
  • Yale University, New Haven, Conn. – David Hafler, M.D., and Erol Fikrig, M.D.

A portion of the funding for the centers will be dedicated to support smaller studies proposed by investigators outside the program, including pilot projects, the development of research resources and clinical studies.

The activities described in this release are being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. More information about NIH’s Recovery Act grant funding opportunities can be found at http://grants.nih.gov/recovery/ . To track the progress of HHS activities funded through the Recovery Act, visit www.hhs.gov/recovery . To track all federal funds provided through the Recovery Act, visit www.recovery.gov .

NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov .

The National Institutes of Health (NIH)—The Nation's Medical Research Agency—includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov/.

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