As the world continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, most researchers agree that it won’t be the last pandemic. In response, the Biosciences Initiative at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is awarding $13.8 million over five years to the new Michigan Center for Infectious Disease Threats.
“Since 2000, we’ve had three coronaviruses that are new to humans cause outbreaks or the current pandemic,” says Aubree Gordon, an infectious disease expert at the U-M School of Public Health.
“And we’ve had three influenza viruses try to make the jump from animals to humans, and one succeeded. So, what’s the likelihood that we see another pandemic in our lives? I’ll say the likelihood is pretty high.”
The center, led by Gordon, will allow researchers from public health, engineering, medicine, evolutionary biology, and social sciences to work across disciplines on issues key to infectious disease preparedness and response.
These issues include public health workforce development, increasing lab capacity, expanding protein production for disease-testing capacity, and adding testing of zoonotic pathogens, and more.
The center’s programs will include:
— A workforce development initiative to strengthen the strategic skills and capacity of the public health workforce to develop integrated training in public health practices to address infectious disease threats in Michigan.
— A collaboration with the U-M Medical School and School of Public Health will develop enhanced biosafety level 3 capabilities, increasing the resources available to the U-M infectious disease community.
— The Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Museum’s Pathogen Biorepository will leverage the collection’s 100,000 tissue samples and add to the collection for infectious disease detection.
— The Protein Production Initiative will provide a rapid response facility to produce proteins from emergent pathogens for use in serological testing and research, which was key during the early testing challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gordon says U-M has strong programs in emerging and reemerging infectious diseases, such as virology, immunology, bioengineering, infectious disease epidemiology, mathematical modeling, and pharmaceutical sciences. This, coupled with the university’s social sciences programs, position it to be a leader in this field.
“The MCIDT is a great example of what the initiative was designed to do, bring together scientists across the breadth of U-M to address critical emerging problems in the life sciences,” says Roger Cone, director of the Biosciences Initiative.
“We hope that with this funding, when the next pandemic hits, we will be at the ready, with all the resources of the university at our disposal to provide the best response possible,” says Gordon.