Tuesday, September 8, 2009

NIH Awards Grants

Awardees of the “Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study” (MIDAS) grants will receive an estimated $40 million over five years. MIDAS is going to add new research expertise to increase the capacity to simulate disease spread, evaluate different intervention strategies, and use the funding to devise ways to help inform public health officials and policymakers.

Some of the best available tools for studying infectious disease dynamics and interventions are computational models. They incorporate basic information about a disease and the affected communities and then simulate the spread of an infectious agent under any number of conditions.

“Models can’t tell us what will happen but they enable us to explore a range of possibilities for disease containment,” said Jeremy M. Berg, PhD, Director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the NIH component supporting MIDAS. “Since its launch in 2004, the MIDAS research network has been at the forefront of infectious disease modeling efforts, and we hope it continues to serve an important role in preparing for possible outbreaks.”

With a probable resurgence of H1N1, University of Pittsburgh researchers have received $13.4 million from the MIDAS program to establish a “Center of Excellence in Modeling of Infectious Diseases” to be led by Donald Burke, M.D. at the University of Pittsburgh.

The projects at the Center will work to develop statistical tools to define the features of a pathogen and its spread through a population, track the evolution of infectious diseases over time, put a system in place to effectively implement an intervention, and provide new computational tools to local health officials.

Funding will also go to a “Center of Excellence for Communicable Disease Dynamics” to be led by Marc Lipsitch, PhD, from the Harvard School of Public Health. The core research program will focus on modeling drug resistance and studying seasonal infectious diseases. The team will work with health officials to integrate public health knowledge into the models and vice versa.

Other grant funding went to the University of Chicago where Charles Macal, PhD of Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois will create a dynamic model of MRSA to examine factors contributing to its spread. The Yale University School of Public Health and the University of Texas at Austin will develop new models that will integrate individuals’ perceptions and behaviors regarding flu. The University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle will develop models to assess the effectiveness and optimal distribution of a variety of control measures.

In addition to these projects MIDAS scientists have published preliminary findings on the origin, infectiousness and likely spread of the 2009 H1N1 virus.

For more information on MIDAS, go to www.nigms.nih.gov/Initiatives/MIDAS.