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St. Jude named a Center of Excellence in flu research

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has been designated one of six Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of the National Institutes of Health.

NIAID will award $23 million per year for seven years to establish the consortium of centers, which includes St. Jude, according to Robert Webster, Ph.D., a member of the Infectious Diseases department and holder of the Rose Marie Thomas Chair at St. Jude. Webster, the principal investigator for the NIAID contract at St. Jude, also directs the WHO Collaborating Center for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza Viruses in Lower Animals and Birds, one of only five such collaborating centers in the world.

The mission of the centers is to expand NIAIDs influenza surveillance program in the United States and internationally to determine how these viruses cause disease as well as how the human immune system responds to them. The goal is to help the federal government prepare for and respond to seasonal influenza as well as outbreaks of animal influenza that might cause pandemics, or worldwide epidemics, in humans.

St. Jude will perform both surveillance of influenza viruses and basic research under the new contract. There are a variety of viruses to monitor besides the well-known H5N1, Webster said. For example, H7N7 infected chicken industry workers in the Netherlands; and H9N2, which circulates in many global avian populations, also sporadically appears in humans.

The establishment of the six Centers of Excellence is an extension of work done by St. Jude under a contract NIAID awarded the institution in 1999, two years after the 1997 outbreak of H5N1 in Hong Kong. That program established surveillance in aquatic birds and in live bird markets in Hong Kong and supported the study of the natural history of influenza viruses that have the potential to cause a pandemic. The St. Ju
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Contact: Summer Freeman
summer.freeman@stjude.org
901-495-3061
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
2-Apr-2007


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