New Institute Takes Aim at Infectious Pathogens, Builds Pipeline of Clinician Researchers

Nov. 11, 2020

The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) has created a new institute that will strengthen and accelerate the study of viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens. The Translational Immunology and Infectious Diseases Institute (TIIDI) will build upon decades of scientific research leadership in the human immune system, respiratory viruses, and vaccine development, and, more recently, the Medical Center’s role in the national response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The new Institute – which is led by David J. Topham, Ph.D., and was approved by the University of Rochester Board of Trustees last month – will bring together multi-disciplinary teams of scientists and clinicians that will take the knowledge gained from basic research in immunology, microbiology, and virology and apply it to problems in human diseases caused by infectious pathogens. TIIDI will also strengthen education and training programs to build a pipeline that produces the next generation of adult and pediatric clinician-researchers in the field.

Researchers will study infectious diseases across several areas of medicine, including immunodeficiency, cancer, transplant, orthopedics, ophthalmology, dermatology, gastroenterology, autoimmunity, neonatology, and public health. TIIDI will focus on the development of new treatments and vaccines, and strategies to better control the spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV, respiratory pathogens, and hospital acquired infections. Researchers will also study the pathology of infectious diseases to better assess risk factors for severe outcomes and develop more effective early interventions.

The Institute will position the Medical Center to play a key role in the development of universal flu vaccines – a major research priority for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) – and harness big data, computational, and advanced imaging resources to support research efforts.

TIIDI will consist of 10 “pillars”:

  • Pediatric Diseases and Immunology
  • Barrier Immunology
  • Coronavirus, Influenza, and other Respiratory Pathogens
  • Antibiotic Resistance
  • Cancer Immunology
  • Dental/Oral
  • Vaccines
  • Computational Biology
  • Community and Public Health

The Institute builds upon a history of achievements in the field dating back more than 40 years, which includes the development of vaccines for bacterial meningitis, HPV (the virus that causes cervical cancer), and the anti-viral drug Tamiflu. URMC infectious disease and immunology research programs attract $10 million per year in funding.

Medical Center researchers have also played a central role in efforts to understand the COVID-19 virus and the durability of immune response to coronavirus infection, and develop new therapies and vaccines. URMC is home three NIAID-supported programs – the New York Influenza Center of Excellence (led by Topham), the Vaccine and Treatments Evaluation Unit (led by Ann R. Falsey, M.D., and Angela Branche, M.D.), and the HIV Vaccine Trials Unit (led by Michael C. Keefer, M.D.) – that have played a central role in the national scientific response to the pandemic. URMC is a site for phase 3 clinical trials for two coronavirus vaccines being developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca/University of Oxford, and more vaccine studies are expected in the coming months. URMC researchers were also involved in the study of the anti-viral drug remdesivir and are currently evaluating several other potential coronavirus therapies, including convalescent plasma, monoclonal antibodies, and immunosuppressive drugs. Read more about URMC’s coronavirus research here.