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January 18, 2012

$4.7 million to establish Respiratory Pathogens Research Center

graphic of virus particle
An influenza viral particle.

The Medical Center has been awarded $4.7 million from the federal government, with several options for additional funding, to establish a center to study the germs that cause lung disease.

The agreement with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, is renewable on a year-by-year basis and could potentially last for seven years. If the agreement lasts the full seven years, contract funding may be at least $35 million, and support could reach as much as $50 million, if NIAID exercises all its options. University officials expect the contract to create or retain a total of approximately 250 jobs at the University—a mix of laboratory technicians, study coordinators, nurses, information analysts, scientists, and others.

The center, known as the Respiratory Pathogens Research Center, places the University at the vanguard of the health of the nation’s citizens and effectively puts University scientists “on call” in the realm of respiratory infections. In times of national need, center personnel are available at the request of federal officials to take on urgent projects to inform public health needs.

A key to the center is the new Health Sciences Center for Computational Innovation (HSCCI), an emerging partnership between the University and IBM.

The centerpiece of the proposed $100 million arrangement between IBM and the University will be an array of IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputers with the capacity to analyze huge amounts of information quickly—a crucial ability at a time when biomedical researchers create unprecedented amounts of data. Last month, New York State awarded the University $5 million for the initiative—which will create one of the most powerful computer systems dedicated to health research in the world—as part of the state’s regional economic development council competition.

Microbiologist David Topham, an influenza researcher who also directs the HSCCI, led the creation of the new center.

“Dave Topham and his team deserve kudos not only for their great work in the past but for the potential their new center has to reduce the tragedy of a variety of lung diseases,” says President Joel Seligman. “The award also is evidence of the potential of high-performance computing to transform the way we study, monitor, and treat diseases. The recent investment by New York State in the HSCCI represents a critical downpayment on this initiative, which will serve to not only improve health, but also lead to substantial regional economic growth.”

“This is one of the largest projects ever undertaken by our scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and we expect the payoff to be enormous, both for the region’s economy and for the health of people worldwide,” says Medical Center CEO Bradford Berk. “Immunology and infectious disease research have long been outstanding strengths of the Medical Center. Several widely used vaccines and improved health across the globe are direct results of that expertise.”

The center will include a broad range of activity: research in the laboratory about why people respond as they do to infection; translational research where scientists seek to make new findings relevant to patients as efficiently as possible; and clinical studies where new drugs or vaccines are tested in people.

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