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NIAID to fund new human immune profiling research centers

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a component of the National Institutes of Health, is accepting grant applications for a new initiative to establish a consortium of human immune profiling research centers. The purpose of these cooperative centerswhich together will receive funding up to $100 million over five yearsis to characterize the human immune system under normal conditions and to understand how it changes following infection or vaccination.

NIAID will launch this new research initiative in 2010, with the funding for the first year of the initiative coming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"By helping us understand what constitutes a normal human immune response, this program will assist researchers who are developing vaccines and other interventions for a variety of infectious diseases of public health importance, including influenza, malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.

Researchers will examine various elements of the immune systemincluding white blood cell subsets, signaling molecules and antibodiesafter exposure to either infectious agents such as viruses or bacteria or to the components of a vaccine, including vaccine boosters known as adjuvants. They also will follow immune responses as they return to a resting state. By doing so, immunologists can identify specific patterns of the various subsets of white blood cells and immune molecules that reflect the status and function of the immune system under different conditions.

A significant challenge for immunologists is to understand how the immune system behaves at rest, also known as homeostasis. A state of immunological homeostasis does not reflect a lack of immunologic activity, or even a restful condition. Furthermore, the immune system of an individual may return to one of several homeostatic states, depending on the nature of the particular immune challenge, such as infection or vaccination.

Although studies in mice have helped advance the understanding of immunological mechanisms, they have several limitations, and findings in animals cannot always be extrapolated to humans. In the new initiative, researchers will analyze samples from well-characterized human cohorts, such as people enrolled in clinical trials, children receiving routine vaccinations, and people with naturally acquired infections. These cohorts will represent the diversity of human populations with respect to genetics, age, ethnicity and gender.

The new program will exploit research approaches that have only recently become available such as systems biology, which integrates information about an organism's genes, proteins and metabolism with data from the host.

In addition, the initiative will provide support for centralized infrastructure to collect, characterize, and store the human samples; for bioinformatic capacity to analyze the large and complex data sets that will be generated; and for the discovery and development of new immune response monitoring tools and sample-sparing assays.

"The observations made and the new methodologies developed by investigators within this program will assist clinical research in vaccine development and beyond," says Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., director of the Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation at NIAID. "These research centers are part of NIAID's long-range goal to identify the principles of human immune regulation, and then apply that knowledge to understanding, treating and preventing immune-mediated and infectious diseases."


Contact: Julie Wu
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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