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ARRA Investments in Regional Centers of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research

Public Health Burden
As a Nation, we must be prepared to respond quickly and effectively to any threat to public health. Threats include new microbes that might emerge naturally and familiar pathogens that re-emerge with enhanced properties or in unusual settings. We must also be prepared for the deliberate release ofpathogenic organisms, biological toxins, chemical poisons, or radioactive substances. The primary role of the NIH in confronting these diverse threats is to carry out basic and applied scientific research and early-stage development of potential products, upon which late-stage advanced product development andultimately approval of vaccines, therapeutics and other medical countermeasures can be based.

NIAID Regional Centers of Excellence
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH, has funded eleven Regional Centers of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research (RCEs). This nationwide network of multidisciplinary academic centers was established to: conduct wide-ranging research on emerging infectious diseases and on infectious agents that could be used in bioterrorism; develop diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines needed for biodefense and emerging infectious diseases; serve as a training ground for biodefense and emerging infectious diseases researchers; and partner with state and local public health agencies to help ensure a strong, coordinated response in a time of crisis.

Within the NIAID RCE Network, ARRA funds are supporting new, highly innovative, non-traditional research projects focused on basic, translational, or product-oriented research addressing biodefense agents and emerging infectious diseases. Funds are also being used to recruit new investigators into the RCE program.

Each selected project addresses one or more high-priority research area, such as emerging infectious diseases, highly pathogenic bacteria or viruses, or multi-drug-resistance. Most of the projects employ a non-traditional approach to develop a new vaccine or therapeutic strategy, and many include a broad-spectrum focus on multiple pathogens. Other projects apply advanced technologies to better define pathogen behavior or host-response, or to develop new diagnostics platforms. Priority pathogens addressed by the grants include influenza, dengue viruses, West Nile virus, and multiple-drug-resistant bacteria (including XDR TB). Examples include the following:

Mid-Atlantic RCE 1
  • PI – Dr. Joshua Plotkin (University of Pennsylvania): Predicting the antigenic future of influenza A: a computational approach
    • This project seeks to provide a rational basis for choosing annual flu vaccine strains and for assessing pandemic risk by systematically quantifying influenza’s antigenic evolution through computational methods.
Rocky Mountain RCE 2
  • PI – Dr. Carmen Menoni (Colorado State University): Sub-cellular mapping of single bacterium by extreme ultraviolet laser
    • This project will explore the use of a powerful ultraviolet laser and mass spectroscopy to assay single cells at subcellular resolution for the development of platform diagnostics.
  • PI – Dr. Ramesh Akkina (Colorado State University): Dengue viral infection, immunity and insect transmission in humanized mice
    • This project will develop mice strains with humanized immune systems. These animals will provide research tools to better understand the human pathogenesis of dengue virus and to test therapeutics.
Western RCE 3
  • PI – Dr. Beth Levine (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center): An autophagy-inducing peptide as a novel therapeutic for intracellular NIAID class A, B, and C priority pathogens
    • This project is exploring ways to enhance the innate immune response, which would result in broad spectrum efficacy of therapeutics.
Midwest RCE 4
  • PI – Dr. Herbert (Skip) Virgin (Washington University): Novel approaches to re-defining viral genetics
    • This project will use advanced sequencing techniques to more completely catalogue viral genes and when they are expressed.
  • PI – Dr. Gail Bishop (University of Iowa): Improving vaccine immunogenicity by exploiting pre-existing humoral responses
    • This project will explore ways to improve the immune response to vaccine components.
Northeast Biodefense Center 5
  • PI – Dr. Steven Almo (Albert Einstein College of Medicine): Genes-to-Vaccines: A novel platform for genome-wide T cell epitope discovery
    • This project will result in a novel, readily portable platform that allows for the rapid, cost-effective and systematic identification of T cell epitopes for the design of vaccines or immunotherapeutics for emerging and reemerging infectious diseases.
  • PI – Dr. Raul Rabadan (Columbia University): Pathogen discovery and classification through non-alignment methods (FASD/GENBAR)
    • This project will result in a bioinformatics tool that will enable better understanding of known and unknown infectious diseases.
New England RCE 6
  • PI – Dr. Deborah Hung (Broad Institute); Rapid phenotypic diagnosis of drug resistance using expression signatures
    • This project will define the expression signatures that are important in several gram-negative bacteria and begin characterizing methods for use with clinical specimens.

  1. U54AI057138 -- Myron Levine (PA)
  2. U54AI065357 -- John Belisle (CO)
  3. U54AI057156 -- David Walker (TX)
  4. U54AI057160 -- Herbert (Skip) Virgin (MO and IA)
  5. U54AI057158 -- Ian Lipkin (NY)
  6. U54AI057159 -- Dennis Kasper (MA)

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Page Last Updated on June 30, 2018 NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health®