BALTIMORE, Md.—The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) awarded the Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) a grant of $15.2 million over five years to create a research center to apply genomic techniques to the study of pathogens and their hosts and to expand understanding of the ways that pathogens can cause harm.
The grant, “Host, Pathogen and the Microbiome: Determinants of Infectious Disease Outcome,” will cover three separate studies of host/pathogen interrelationships for bacteria, fungi and parasites. Dr. Claire Fraser will serve as principal investigator and administrative core director, and Drs. David Rasko and Owen White will be team principal investigators.
In the host/bacterial pathogens and microbiome component, researchers are studying pathogen evolution as it passes through the host, analyzing the metagenomic structure of fecal matter and determining which genes are turned on when the pathogen goes through the host, explains Dr. David A. Rasko, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and project leader of this host/bacterial and microbiome part of the research. “We’re looking at the pathogen before it goes in people and when it comes out to get a rare insight into the infectious process,” he adds.
The genomic analysis of fungal pathogensis project led by Dr. Vincent Bruno will examine genomic diversity in Candida albicans, the leading cause of fungal infection. The integrated genomics research in parasitic tropical diseases, led by Drs. Joana C. Silva and Julie C. Dunning Hotopp, will investigate malaria drug resistance at the genomic level.
Rasko notes that the IGS Genome Center for Infectious Diseases (GCID) will use large-scale genomics and bioinformatics approaches to investigate pathogen biology, virulence, drug resistance, immune invasion, host-microbiome interactions and pathogen resistance. An interdisciplinary team will be leading the GCID research, including faculty from the Institute for Genome Sciences, the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and the Center for Vaccine Development at USMOM. Investigators have extensive contacts within national and international infectious disease communities, whose previous research collaborations have involved a wide range of human pathogens.
According to Fraser, who is director of the Institute for Genome Sciences and a professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology at UMSOM, “This team has been in the forefront of applying genomic techniques to advance scientific understanding of infectious disease agents, and the NIAID grant will catalyze further development of genomics approaches within global infectious disease communities.”
Dr. E. Albert Reece, vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland, added, “Integrating genomics with diagnostic and clinical medicine has advanced our biological understanding of diseases and health. The NIAID grant will foster new collaborations across disciplines within the clinical and research centers in the School of Medicine, as well as within international infectious disease communities.”
The funding will support a technology core, a data management core, an immunology core and an administrative core, as well as research programs that focus on the three areas described earlier. The projects will include whole-genome and targeted genome sequencing, transcriptome profiling by RNA-seq, rRNA community profiling and metagenomics and metatranscriptomic sequencing. The sequencing will be performed using three platforms, including the Illumina MiSeq and HiSeq systems and the Pacific Biosciences RSH system.
In addition to vital research projects, IGS will establish workshops and continue educational initiatives to expand the understanding of how to apply genomics to high-priority research questions that impact global health. IGS has previously received grants as a Genome Sequencing Center for Infectious Diseases, an NIAID-funded five-year contract, and the lead investigators have also had principal investigator roles with the NIAID-funded Microbial Sequencing Center, also a five-year contract.
Established in 1807, the University of Maryland School of Medicine is the first public medical school in the United States and the first to institute a residency-training program. It serves as the anchor for a large academic health center that provides medical education, conducts biomedical research and provides patient care and community service.
The Institute for Genome Sciences is an international research center within the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Composed of an interdisciplinary, multidepartment team of investigators, the institute uses genomics and bioinformatics to understand genome function in health and disease, to study molecular and cellular networks in a variety of model systems and to generate data and bioinformatics resources of value to the international scientific community.