New $ 13.8 million center at UM to study infectious disease and pandemic preparedness



As researchers around the world continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, most agree on one problem: If history is any indication, there is another pandemic to come.

“Since 2000, we have had three novel coronaviruses for humans that cause epidemics or the current pandemic. And we had three influenza viruses that tried to switch from animals to humans, and one was successful, said Aubree Gordon, an infectious disease expert at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. “So what is the likelihood that we will see another pandemic in our lives? I will say the probability is quite high.

To better prepare for it, maximize the scope of UM’s scientific expertise and collaboration on campus and support the increase in human and laboratory infrastructure, the Biosciences Initiative is allocating $ 13.8 million over five years at the new Michigan Center for Infectious Disease Threats.

The center, led by Gordon, will enable researchers in public health, engineering, medicine, evolutionary biology and the social sciences to work across disciplines on key questions for disease preparedness and response. infectious diseases, including developing public health personnel, increasing laboratory capacity, expanding protein production for disease detection capacity, and adding testing for zoonotic pathogens.

“The overall goal of the center is to connect researchers here on campus and to better prepare the University of Michigan both locally and globally for pandemic preparedness and response, in order to create a community here on campus. around infectious diseases, ”said Gordon, associate professor of epidemiology. “The center will create synergies between our multiple schools and departments and make us competitive in recruiting scientists to fill critical gaps in research areas.”

The centre’s programs will include:

  • A Workforce Development Initiative to Build Strategic Skills and the Capacity of the Public Health Workforce to Develop Integrated Training in Public Health Practices to Address Infectious Disease Threats in Michigan .
  • In collaboration with the UM Faculty of Medicine and the School of Public Health, the center will develop enhanced level 3 biosafety capacities, significantly increasing the resources available to the UM infectious disease community. Activities to expand the state-of-the-art BSL3 containment space have already started and are expected to be open to investigators in early 2022.
  • The pathogen bio-repository of the Museum of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology will use the 100,000 already existing tissue samples in the collection and add to the collection of samples for the detection of infectious diseases. While the initial focus is on bats, rodents, and waterfowl, they expect to include all groups of wildlife.
  • The Protein Production Initiative will provide a rapid response facility for the production of proteins from emerging pathogens for use in serological testing and research, which was essential during the early testing challenges during the COVID pandemic -19. This program is based on the expertise of the LSI Centers for Structural Biology and Cryoelectronic Microscopy.

Gordon said many, including Bill Gates in a famous 2015 TEDx video, warned the United States was not ready for the next pandemic. Then the SARS-CoV-2 happened.

“The world was not ready for the pandemic, our nation was not ready for the pandemic and our campus was not ready for the pandemic,” she said.

Gordon said UM has exceptionally strong programs in many areas needed to make it a leader in emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, such as virology, immunology, bioengineering, infectious disease epidemiology, mathematical modeling and pharmaceutical sciences. And the university is also a leading national center for social science research and public policy, areas not traditionally considered infectious diseases, but which have been critical to the pandemic response, a- she declared.

Until now, there was no structure to align these efforts. According to Roger Cone, director of the Biosciences Initiative, “The MCIDT is a prime example of what the initiative was designed to do, bring together scientists across the MU to address critical emerging issues in the life sciences. .

“We hope that with this funding, when the next pandemic strikes, we will be ready, with all of the university’s resources at our disposal to provide the best possible response,” Gordon said.


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