Human studies to define responses to infectious agents and vaccines will be conducted.

NIH is launching a nationwide research initiative to define changes in the immune system in response to infection or vaccination. Six U.S.-based Human Immune Phenotyping Centers will receive $100 million over five years to conduct research in humans.

Funding for the centers is provided by the NIAID. Support for the first year of this initiative will come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. A portion of the funding for the centers will be dedicated to support smaller studies proposed by investigators outside the program, including pilot projects, the development of research resources, and clinical studies.

“This research effort represents a major expansion of efforts to define the principles of human immune regulation, instead of relying on findings from animal models that have limitations and cannot always be extrapolated to people,” says Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., director of the division of allergy, immunology, and transplantation at NIAID. “The knowledge gained also will improve our understanding of the range of vaccine responses in particular subpopulations including newborns, young children, the elderly, patients taking immunosuppressive medications, and those with underlying diseases of the immune system such as allergy and autoimmune diseases.”

Investigators will analyze samples from well-characterized groups including children, the elderly, and people with autoimmune diseases such as lupus. These groups represent diverse populations with respect to age, genetics, gender, and ethnicity.

The research teams will examine immune system elements of these populations before and after exposure to naturally acquired infections or to vaccines or vaccine components. Their studies will focus on immune responses to vaccines against specific viruses and bacteria, such as influenza and pneumococcus, as well as to infection with West Nile virus.

The investigators will take advantage of technological developments and advances in assay technology, databases, and mathematical models to identify and analyze the complex changes in immune profiles. They believe that this will enable new approaches to examining vaccine safety, not just of individual vaccines but of the processes of immunization in general.

Each awardee will contribute to the establishment of a centralized infrastructure to collect, characterize, and store human samples and analyze the large datasets that will be generated. Eventually, the centers will gather the information from this effort into a centralized web-based database, which will be made available to the scientific community to promote and support human immunology research.

The following six core institutions and principal investigators will participate in the inaugural program: Jacques Banchereau, Ph.D., from Baylor Research Institute, Ellis Reinherz, M.D., from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Bali Pulendran, Ph.D., from Emory University, Gregory Poland, M.D., from Mayo Clinic, Mark Davis, Ph.D., from Stanford University, and  David Hafler, M.D., and Erol Fikrig, M.D., from Yale University.

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