Campus & Community

U.S. awards School of Public Health $20.5 million grant

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Largest grant ever given to HSPH for biodefense research

The federal government has awarded Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) a $20.5 million biodefense grant to study the immune system response to pathogens. The grant, which will span a 4.5-year period, is the largest grant to date to the School for biodefense research. HSPH is also receiving federal funds for leadership training for public health preparedness in a bioterrorism crisis. The new grant is from the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the project is titled “Arming the Immune System Against Pathogens.”

The project will be led by Laurie Glimcher, Irene Heinz Given Professor of Immunology in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at HSPH.

“The School is gratified to receive this award, which will aid in global understanding of the immune system response to attack by infectious agents, whether naturally occurring or intentional,” said HSPH Dean Barry R. Bloom. “Our national security depends increasingly on vigorous basic research and a strong public health infrastructure to protect public health at all times.”

The outcome of an infection with any given pathogen depends upon both the nature of the pathogen and the response of the host. Thus, effective intervention will likely result from an understanding both of the pathogen and of the host’s immune response. Faculty in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at HSPH, who study the immune response and the host-pathogen interaction of naturally occurring diseases, are uniquely equipped to bring these components together.

An effective immune response against microbial agents must be of both appropriate magnitude and type. Among HSPH faculty, Glimcher and Michael Grusby will study early molecular checkpoints in the development of each of these immune response types while Igor Kramnik will examine genetic determinants of host resistance to pathogens in vivo. Eric Rubin’s laboratory explores the genetic constraints of the pathogen itself.

These HSPH investigators join with Gregory Petsko, director of the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center at Brandeis University, and the MannKind biotechnology company in Valencia, Calif. The overall objective of this interdependent, interdisciplinary team is to develop molecules that modulate the host immune system so as to augment the protective effects of vaccines against microbial pathogens.

“We are thrilled that the award will enable us to pursue this work,” said Glimcher. “This project will certainly also enhance general understanding of how the immune system works and could lead to applications for dealing with both familiar and new infectious agents.”