The University of Cincinnati’s collaborative research center identifies effective treatments for epidemic and bio-terrorism attacks
CINCINNATI, November 22, 2010 - In the midst of flu season, millions of Americans are rushing to get vaccinated before becoming one of the approximately 200,000 flu victims the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates are hospitalized every year. They aren’t the only ones suffering: according to study findings presented in a 2006 CNN story, the flu and other infectious disease outbreaks cost the nation’s employers about $10 billion a year.
That’s why the University of Cincinnati’s Midwest Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (MI-CEID) exists. The center serves as a touchstone for advanced medical breakthroughs to provide protection and preparedness for biological events throughout the country – including bioterrorism, biological threats, pandemic outbreaks and even seasonal flu viruses.
“The best way to head off potential public health disasters is to have a targeted means to prevent, quickly diagnose, contain and treat infections. This can only be possible through diligent and comprehensive interdisciplinary research,” said Malak Kotb, chair of the department of molecular genetics, biochemistry and microbiology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, and senior career research scientist at the VA Medical Center.
The MI-CEID is a unique model for collaboration across diversified medical disciplines, including:
• UC Academic Health Center;
• Local hospitals including the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center;
• Environmental Protection Agency (EPA);
• VA Medical Center;
• Regional health department;
• Public safety agencies;
• Community leaders;
• Professional associations.
“Solutions to disease treatment and prevention require innovation – and you can’t be innovative and be in silos. We achieve the best outcomes by utilizing teams of people who are skilled in their areas of knowledge,” said Kotb. “By doing this, we create something novel and effective. We need to be ahead of the curve, and at UC we have the capabilities and technology to be able to make these strides in healthcare.”
Kotb credits the cross-disciplinary nature of UC’s research facility as key to the center’s early and continued successes. Whereas similar research centers rely on collaborators that may be spread across the country, the MI-CEID brings researchers from each of the organizations above, plus the university’s College of Medicine, under one roof for optimal communication and exchange of ideas and expertise.
To combat potential health threats, the collaborative team uses a state-of-the-art approach to identify and study different types of infectious bacteria, viruses and toxins to improve their detection. The team is also conducting research to identify genetic markers that may predict disease severity in individual patients and inform the most beneficial treatment for each based on genotypes of their DNA.
“Once we find which genes are engaged in the disease process, we can determine how they are connected through the biological networks that influence disease,“ said Kotb. ”This allows us to create a roadmap that can predict responses, increase protection, reduce the severity or prevent the illness or disease altogether. This helps save time, money and lives when outbreaks occur.”
Organizations have been quick to realize the potential of the MI-CEID: the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Defense and Homeland Security, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and other government agencies have tapped the center for research projects with national implications. In addition, Kotb cites the importance of private support via UC’s billion-dollar Proudly Cincinnati fundraising campaign. The center also relies on corporations that contribute to the research center’s ability to remain operational year-round and expand on its research capabilities.
But while this support can fund specific research initiatives, Kotb says that funding for truly cutting-edge research can sometimes be scarce. Financial support and partnerships are always being sought to further support research and discovery, build a stronger infrastructure, and attract high caliber scientists to effectively fight existing and emerging pathogens. These activities create jobs and boost the economy.
“Private industry is an essential ingredient to successful disease-mitigation and prevention strategies. Without private support to spur on ground-breaking research, essential studies –including those that can predict infection severity in different patients and/or can help suggest the best treatment strategies, and/or predict adverse reactions to certain drugs or vaccines can certainly save lives and reduce medical costs,” Kotb said.
There will always be another pandemic disease or public health scare, but with the UC’s MI-CEID program unique vision and collaborative model the treatments will be more timely and effective. For more information on this innovative program, visit http://www.molgen.uc.edu.
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Lauren Boettcher, UC Foundation