The National Institutes of Health has awarded a contract to researchers at The Johns Hopkins University to launch a new center devoted to developing innovative ways to identify and track influenza viruses worldwide.

Under terms of the contract from NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Johns Hopkins will be one of only five institutions in the United States to be a part of the Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance (CEIRS). The institutions in the CEIRS network will pursue some independent research projects and collaborate on others.

A high priority for the Johns Hopkins center is to develop better ways to rapidly identify which circulating influenza virus strains are robust enough to infect large numbers of people and cause serious, widespread illness. To that end, the Johns Hopkins CEIRS team plans to track human influenza virus strains in the U.S. and Taiwan as part of an effort build a database of influenza cases in real time from hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

The data will be stored in a central, cloud-based computer network so researchers across the CEIRS network can access the information for their own projects and share insights and findings from across the country and globally.

The center staff will also analyze genetic characteristics of influenza viruses and use genome sequencing technologies on viruses collected for the database.

Center co-director Andrew Pekosz said a storehouse of such information could aid vaccine manufacturers in developing vaccines that better protect against circulating seasonal strains and give public health agencies and drug makers more lead time to prepare for a potential emerging pandemic.

Other CEIRS centers are located at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tenn.; the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, N.Y.; Emory University, Atlanta, Ga.; and the University of Rochester, Rochester, N.Y.

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