The University of Vermont and its Larner College of Medicine have received a multi-million dollar award from the National Institutes of Health to create a new center that will develop new ways to prevent and control infectious diseases.
UVM officials announced that $12.3 million from the NIH for a new Center of Biomedical Research Excellence will establish the “Translational Global Infectious Disease Research Center” at the college. Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics chair and principal investigator for the center Dr. Beth Kirkpatrick says a multi-disciplinary effort will bring together researchers from the colleges of medicine, engineering and mathematical sciences, and agriculture and life sciences. “I think of it as sort of a research accelerator . If there was a traditional technique for creating a new drug using new computational techniques to screen medications that the computational scientists can help us analyze and interpret while using the expertise and knowledge of the biomedical scientists to guide the necessity and the type of medication you might need, put together it’s a real accelerator for new products and new techniques and new tools. So the idea of a product might be a new medication or an improved vaccine. The idea of a tool might be a process or a system in which you could predict a new outbreak and prevent it. Now this will of course will take some time. But those are sort of the type of things that we’ll be shooting for in this award.”
Professor of Medicine and co-principal investigator Dr. Jason Bates anticipates groundbreaking research will be done at the new center. “By having a full collaboration between the data scientists, particularly those focused on what’s known as complex system studies and complex disease, we hope to be at the forefront of the international efforts to understand the entirety of a complex disease as it infects not only the people who are infected but the societies who are infected and even the entire countries who are affected. So it’s a question of pushing the envelope really.”
Bates adds that while UVM and its researchers did not invent the idea of bringing together computational and biomedical sciences, it needs to happen more. “We have a very unique opportunity to do it really well on the campus of the University of Vermont here because everything is so close together. Just the physical co-location removes one of the key barriers to collaboration right away. We’ve also had a very rapidly developing program on campus, or a culture on campus here, about interdisciplinary collaboration between the various colleges which we’re exploiting. So we’re just perfectly poised to bring everybody together. Because the truth is that dealing with the infectious disease problem, the global infectious problem, is so complex that no one group can do it effectively on their own. It takes a collaboration.”
Kirkpatrick says the new center will build on strengths of both computational and biomedical scientists as they work together on infectious disease problems. “I think the most exciting thing for this award is really the ability to harness the data, um, the data the biomedical scientists make, the data the epidemiologists make, to really look at it in creative new ways that really reinvigorate how it works and what we explore and how we approach these problems in ways that haven’t really been thought of before. And so it’s really a tremendous opportunity for us. It adds new tools and new creative thinking as a way to solve these global problems.”
The five-year funding award marks the fifth Center of Biomedical Research Excellence grant from the NIH to the College of Medicine over the past 17 years.