UVM gets $12.3 million NIH grant to establish infectious disease research center

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UVM gets $12.3 million NIH grant to establish infectious disease research center

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 1:58pm -- tim

Matt Kinsey, MD, show two slides of a cancer. On the left is an enhanced view which clearly shows the tumor. One of Kinsey's research areas includes helping to distinguish TB from cancer in patients in Bangladesh. VBM photo.

by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business  Tuberculosis is still a global problem. Another problem is that it can visually mimic lung cancer leading to problems of diagnosis and treatment. Leaders at the University of Vermont and Larner College of Medicine today announced $12.3 million in funding for a new Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) called the “Translational Global Infectious Disease Research Center” (TGIR). This endeavor will help in the fight against TB and other diseases. Lower income countries are especially vulnerable.

The center will join together two traditionally distinct groups of scientists -- biologic and big data -- to develop innovative approaches to prevent and control infectious disease. It also will enhance the university and medical school in recruitment and retention of doctors and researchers.

The new research initiative will leverage UVM expertise in the College of Medicine, the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, and also the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to develop strategies for decreasing the burden of infectious diseases, particularly in low-income countries. This is the fifth COBRE grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that the College of Medicine has secured over the past 17 years.

COBRE grants target smaller states that do not have large, multi-site medical research facilities. Vermont and New Hampshire, for instance, only have one each.

The TGIR-COBRE aims to bridge the gap between the biologic and quantitative data fields of biomedical research by developing institutional strengths in global infectious disease research and supporting the research careers of outstanding junior faculty in this field.

Beth Kirkpatrick, MD, explains the COBRE grant. VBM photo.

“Effective responses to infectious disease burdens and threats must capitalize on new technologies and analytical tools,” said Beth Kirkpatrick, MD, principal investigator of the TIGR-COBRE, director of the Vaccine Testing Center and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. “Together our TGIR-COBRE team can harness the opportunities of our combined areas of expertise and that of “big data” to improve health of global populations.”

Kirkpatrick said they learned of the award a couple of weeks ago and, "We're moving already." These awards come in five-year increments. This project has a 15-year timeframe, she said. In all, a dozen or more researchers could be employed. Also important to the university and medical school is the opportunity for the junior researches to move up and then mentor the next generation of researchers, Kirkpatrick. This would give them an opportunity to grow professionally, she said, while enhancing UVM's ability to recruit top talent.

Co-principal investigators on the TGIR-COBRE are Jason Bates, PhD, ScD, professor of medicine, and Christopher Huston, MD, associate professor of medicine.

Specifically, the TGIR-COBRE will incorporate existing research strengths in human Infectious Diseases, including Huston's research, and the platforms of the UVM Vaccine Testing Center, which include human immunology laboratories, clinical trials capabilities, and collaborations with international investigators and field sites.

The TGIR center will also incorporate the substantial expertise in complex systems and mathematical/computational modeling of the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences.

Four junior scientists – with mentorship from senior scientific advisors – will be supported by the grant, including: Benjamin Lee, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics, who will research “Development of a B cell responses and serological immunity following rotavirus vaccination in infants:” Laurent Hebert-Dufresne, PhD, assistant professor of computer science, who will study “Network epidemiology and the quantification of behavioral interventions;” Sean Diehl, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, whose research project is titled “Next generation correlates of protection for dengue;” and C Matthew Kinsey, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine, who will research “Discriminating latent tuberculosis from lung cancer in high-risk populations.”

Research conducted as part of this grant is supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the NIH under Award Number 1P20 GM125498-01.  The content is solely the responsibility of the grantee institutions and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.       

Christopher Huston, MD, is one of the lead investigators in the new center, along with Jason Bates, PhD, and Beth Kirkpatrick, MD. VBM photo.

Source: The Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at The University of Vermont 10.11.2018