Rochester Researchers Receive $3 Million to Study Flu

Apr. 9, 2014
NIH Award Continues Work of the New York Influenza Center of Excellence
Researchers at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry were awarded approximately $3 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health to continue the work being performed by the New York Influenza Center of Excellence (NYICE). Established in 2007 under the leadership of John J. Treanor, M.D. and David J. Topham, Ph.D., NYICE is a member of the NIH Centers of Excellence in Influenza Research and Surveillance (CEIRS). 

Over the next year, Treanor, Topham and several other university scientists will study how our immune systems respond to flu vaccines and seasonal and pandemic flu viruses. The long-term goal is to gain new knowledge that will improve the design of flu vaccines to provide better protection. The team will work with collaborators at the University of Chicago, the University of Massachusetts and the Food and Drug Administration on several related projects throughout the year, such as collecting blood samples from adults and children with acute flu and from asymptomatic household members to better understand immune system responses over the course of illness or following exposure not resulting in illness.

“This award is an acknowledgement of the highly productive contributions our center has made to the overall understanding of how the immune response to flu is regulated,” said Treanor, director of NYICE, professor of Medicine and chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital. “Our team has made novel observations regarding the way that pandemic flu vaccines can unexpectedly prime the immune system for vigorous responses to subsequent exposures and discovered the fundamental role that various immune cells, such as helper T-cells, play in the response to flu vaccine. All of this information is leading to more effective strategies for flu vaccination.”

According to Topham, co-director of NYICE, the center also acquired significant understanding of the 2009 pandemic virus, identifying factors that controlled the virulence or hostility of the H1N1 virus and factors that led to a successful immune response against the virus. He says this information will be extremely useful to scientists and public health officials preparing for future pandemics.

Established by the NIAID in 2007, CEIRS is a collaborative network of universities that bring together different areas of expertise and a comprehensive approach to understanding how to combat the continuing threat of pandemic influenza and improve our approach to controlling seasonal influenza. All research is informed by surveillance data from human and animal populations in the United States and around the world. Investigators of NYICE will work closely with investigators at the other CEIRS centers, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, the Johns Hopkins University and Emory University.

“We are building on investments by the NIAID to improve our ability to prepare for and reduce risk every year during flu season and in the case of another pandemic,” said Topham, professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. “This work is made possible by our highly cooperative, synergistic and multi-disciplinary team of scientists with expertise in immunology, virology, epidemiology, clinical and translational research and data management.”

“This award continues a long legacy of successful infectious disease research at the university,” said Mark B. Taubman, M.D., dean of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. “We are very excited that our scientists are contributing to research that is extremely important on a national and an international level and that will improve our ability to keep people safe in the face of future threats.”