U gets money for flu study

The University has been selected for a $22.5 million contract to study influenza.

by James Schlemmer

On Monday, the University became one of six sites in the country chosen to establish a Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, part of the National Institutes of Health, chose the University because of its long-running involvement in influenza research.

Over the next seven years, the Institute will award $22.5 million to the Minnesota Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance, established as part of the funding contract.

To control the impact of a potential influenza pandemic, MCEIRS will focus on disease and virologic surveillance and provide the federal government with information and public health strategies.

Marguerite Pappaioanou, principal investigator and professor of infectious disease and epidemiology at the University School of Public Health, said the potential benefits from this research are far-reaching.

“The Center of Excellence will be important in understanding how pandemic viruses emerge and how to prevent them from emerging,” she said.

The majority of the testing will occur at the University’s College of Veterinary Medicine’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

MCEIRS will monitor wild birds in United States wetlands and identify low pathologic influenza strains in Minnesota poultry.

The Center will also conduct avian influenza surveillance of people, poultry and other animals in Thailand, in connection with the country’s Chulalongkorn University.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and professor of public health, said the University was very fortunate to receive this contract.

“It was a highly competitive process with a number of applicants,” he said. “The University of Minnesota is recognized as one of the elite avian influenza institutions in the country.”

The other five centers will be located at the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Rochester, Emory University, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Pappaioanou said the University will become one of the dominant schools when it comes to avian influenza.

“St. Jude’s is looked at for its expertise in influenza,” she said. “Now people will say that about the ‘U.’ “

Osterholm said studying animals with the virus is an integral part of learning how to prevent humans from carrying the virus.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 200 cases of bird flu have been reported in humans since 2004.

“If you understand what will happen with humans – study birds. That’s where it comes from,” he said. “It gives us a very early warning system that have a human potential.”

Pappaioanou said the money will allow many researchers from the local area and even around the world to bring their ideas together for the cause.

“There is a lot of expertise on influenza in the state and at the ‘U.’ It’s important to bring all those experts together,” she said.

Sociology senior Tim Zismer said this can only help the University become a world-class research institution.

“It’s pretty well-known nationwide,” he said. “If they do something global, it will spread around and bring more notice to what they’ve done.”