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Pandemic research receives $1.6M funding boost

HAMILTON, July 29, 2008 Densely populated cities and increased air travel can be factors which create and spread pandemic disease. But a McMaster University researcher is working with isolated Hutterite communities to understand the transmission of pandemic diseases like influenza.

Dr. Mark Loeb and his research team have received $1.6 million in funding to carry out the research from the Rx&D Health Research Foundation (HRF), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Dr. Loeb will work with Hutterite communities in western Canada to examine the transmission of flu viruses from person to person and from pigs to humans. Dr. Loeb is an internationally-recognized expert in infectious disease epidemiology, and has studied SARS (as founding director of the Canadian SARS Research Network), West Nile Virus, and antibiotic use and resistance. His team's new research will detect influenza viruses in humans and pigs in Hutterite communities, and use computer modelling to analyze the transmission of the virus.

"Hutterite communities are uniquely well-suited to this sort of research, because they are active swine farmers and because they live in isolation from mainstream society," says Loeb. "We hope to use this research grant to learn important lessons about how disease spreads and how to prevent it."

"Our foundation supports research in areas that are important to Canada's health research community and to Canadian society as a whole." said Dr. Yves Morin, President of the Health Research Foundation. "Our goal is to augment Canada's position as a world-class centre for health research and a leader in developing new ways to prevent, treat and cure disease."

"The SARS outbreak taught us that there are no national boundaries when it comes to infectious diseases," said Dr. Bhagirath Singh, Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity. "Through this partnership, Dr. Loeb and his team will receive the critical support needed to further advance knowledge in the area of pandemic preparedness and influenza outbreaks."

This announcement is the first of a series of annual thematic grants to be made by the HRF on important public health issues. HRF, one of the leading private granting foundations in Canada, has awarded over $23 million to over 1,400 researchers in the past 20 years alone.

"It's gratifying to researchers to see funding come from foundations such as the HRF, as it indicates a willingness to give back and to further basic and applied research into important subjects," said Peter George, president of McMaster University. "This is a critical study, and we're particularly pleased to see Dr. Loeb's innovative work given well-deserved recognition with this grant."

The research team includes:

  • Dr. Mark Loeb, McMaster University, Ontario (principal investigator)
  • Dr. Margaret Russell, University of Calgary, Alberta
  • Dr. Jonathan Dushoff, McMaster University, Ontario
  • Dr. David Earn, McMaster University, Ontario
  • Dr. Kevin Fonseca, Provincial Laboratory for Public health, Calgary, Alberta
  • Dr. Julie Fox, Provincial Laboratory for Public Health, Calgary Alberta
  • Dr. Julia Keenliside, Alberta Agriculture and Food, Edmonton, Alberta
  • Dr. Mathieu Lemire, McGill University, Quebec and Genome Quebec
  • Dr. Marek Smieja, McMaster University, Ontario
  • Dr. Stephen Walter, McMaster University, Ontario
  • Dr. Richard Webby, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee


Contact: Veronica McGuire
McMaster University

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