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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI researcher awarded $500K grant for development of vaccines for neglected tropical diseases

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – September 29, 2010 – Adding to a $13 million grant awarded to the University of Rhode Island last summer, Professor Annie De Groot has received an additional $511,121 from the National Institutes of Health. The money will be used to accelerate the application of her integrated gene-to-vaccine computer tools to develop vaccines for neglected tropical diseases.

The research is being conducted at URI’s Institute of Immunology and Informatics (I’Cubed).

The newly awarded NIH money is being issued under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. De Groot was also awarded a $256,000 grant to make the tools available to researchers at Harvard, Stanford, Emory, University of Maryland, University of Oklahoma, Baylor Research Institute in Dallas and University of Massachusetts.

De Groot, who joined the faculty of the URI College of the Environment and Life Sciences just 18 months ago, is the principal investigator of the $13 million grant for the Translational Immunology Research and Accelerated Vaccine Development (TRIAD) program. That grant helped launch I’Cubed at URI’s Providence Biotechnology Center and included URI among the Cooperative Centers for Human Immunology and Translational Research. The money also funded iVax, an immunoinformatics toolkit developed by De Groot’s company, Epivax Inc., which analyzes genomic information and predicts vaccine targets.

I’Cubed applies cutting edge bioinformatics tools to accelerate the development of treatments and cures for immune-system diseases like HIV and tuberculosis. TRIAD also established De Groot’s in silico (via computer simulation), in vitro and in vivo vaccine research program at the University’s Providence campus. This latest grant brings the total amount awarded to De Groot’s URI lab to $13.7 million.

“This funding moves us one step closer to our goal of making the I’Cubed an internationally recognized center for accelerated vaccine design,” says Denice Spero, co-director of I’Cubed.

Spero, like De Groot, has extensive experience in biotechnology. “The TRIAD grant will enable our team to expand our work to some of the most important tropical diseases affecting millions of people in the developing world. We look forward to welcoming six fellows from all over the world to the Providence campus in January. This grant provides us with the exciting opportunity to collaborate across disciplines and to teach the next generation of scientists to use tools that are accelerating the development of vaccines and therapeutics.”

The grant fulfills the promise made last year that I’Cubed aims to quickly make these tools available to the global research community for the development of vaccines for tropical diseases and other infectious diseases. De Groot has received national and international recognition for her innovative genome–to–vaccine approach and has been a vocal advocate for accelerating the development of vaccines for the developing world using new tools.

De Groot said that the staggering number of people affected by neglected tropical diseases around the world is a constant reminder of the gravity of the situation.

According to the World Health Organization, over one billion people are suffering from one or more of the diseases such as dengue fever, Buruli disease, Chagas disease and Leishmaniasis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists dengue fever as the leading cause of illness and death in the tropics and subtropics. Cases of dengue fever, once only a problem in the developing world, have now been reported in the United States and recently in France.

Statistics like those are what drive De Groot and the team at I’Cubed to devote as much manpower as possible to new research and development.
For more information about De Groot, the Institute for Immunology and Informatics, and the TRIAD grant research, visit www.immunome.org.