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Emory School of Medicine receives $16 million NIH grant to lead biodefense consortium

Translational research in immunology will focus on vaccine development

Emory University Health Sciences Center

Emory University School of Medicine has received a grant of $16 million to lead one of five national Cooperative Centers for Translational Research on Human Immunology and Biodefense announced today by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Other institutions in the Emory center include the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, Washington; the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Bellinzona, Switzerland, the Mayo Clinic, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The four-and-a-half year grant is part of $85 million in NIAID awards aimed at a better understanding of the human immune response to potential agents of bioterror and rapid development of counter measures such as vaccines and therapies. The translational centers will focus on moving new findings about immune system function out of the laboratory and into clinical trials.

The Emory-led projects will include studying the human immune response to a vaccine in its entirety, from innate responses to peak immune responses, to the development of long-term immune memory; understanding how a successful vaccine works and using that knowledge to design strategies to enhance vaccine efficacy; and understanding at a cellular level how vaccines lose their effectiveness over time so as to improve the responses of the elderly to vaccination.

Scientists in the Emory consortium will use genomics and proteomics to study the molecular signatures of vaccine-induced innate and adaptive immune responses, says Rafi Ahmed, PhD, director of the Emory Vaccine Center, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, and principal investigator of the Emory grant. "These molecular 'signatures' will help us differentiate between 'good' and 'bad' vaccines," Dr. Ahmed explains. "And this knowledge should allow us to manipulate these immune responses to either enhance immunity in the case of vaccines and immune therapy or to decrease immune responses in autoimmune diseases, transplantation and gene therapy."

This comprehensive research collaboration provides us with a unique opportunity to investigate the entire range of human immune responses, from the laboratory to the clinic, and to develop new technologies that will allow us to move beyond our present capabilities in designing effective vaccines to address the increasing challenges of emerging infections and human-caused biothreats," said Dr. Ahmed.

The other four national Cooperative Centers for Translational Research on Human Immunology and Biodefense are led by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Institute for Immunology Research in Dallas; Stanford University School of Medicine; and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Scientists in Emory University's Woodruff Health Sciences Center also recently received approximately $12 million as part of a $45 million NIAID grant for a Southeastern Regional Center of Excellence for Emerging Infections and Biodefense (SERCEB), led by Duke University.

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