$10 million NIH-award establishes new U-M center to study genomics of infectious disease pathogens

2:30 PM

Author | Kelly Malcom

Microscopic rendering of the flu virus with green, purple and red coloring

The saying “know your enemy” is the driving motivation behind a diverse team of U-M led infectious disease scientists—and a new award of more than $10 million from the National Institutes of Health will help accelerate the understanding of pathogens that threaten human life.

The award will establish the Michigan Infectious Disease Genomics (MIDGE) Center, the goal of which is to use whole genome sequencing and functional genomic assays to determine how genetic differences among strains or isolates affect the behavior, transmission, and drug resistance of viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens.

“In all the projects, what we’re really asking is ‘what makes a pathogen successful?’,” co-principal investigator Adam Lauring, M.D., Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at U-M Medical School.

“Our goal is to identify the genetic differences – the mutations – in pathogens that are circulating in our communities in order to figure out what makes them better at transmitting from one person to another, better at becoming resistant to our drugs, or in some cases, cause more severe disease.”

The multidisciplinary center includes researchers from the Medical School’s Departments of Microbiology & Immunology, Internal Medicine, and Pathology as well as Biomedical Engineering, and LSA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Additional sub awards go to investigators at the Fred Hutchison Cancer Center, University of Illinois, and University of Wisconsin.

“Over the last decade, the University of Michigan has become a leader in microbial genomics with expertise at the Medical School and across the entire campus. We’ve also developed relationships with MDHHS and investigators at other institutions, which allows us to answer questions at a larger scale. This NIH-supported Center is an opportunity for all of us to work together to really push the field and address key public health challenges," said Evan Snitkin, Ph.D., a co-principal investigator on the project. 

Lauring and Snitkin are joined by Teresa O’Meara, Ph.D. of the Department of Microbiology & Immunology as the Center’s lead investigators. 

“It will be great to work as a team with leading scientists, using genomic epidemiology approaches to understand spread of pathogens both in and outside of the hospital setting,” said O’Meara.

Among some of the infectious disease threats that scientists at the MIDGE Center will examine are viruses such as SARS-CoV2, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV); the bacteria carbapenem resistant Enterobacteriales; and the fungus Candida auris. Together, these pathogens combined account for millions of infections and deaths each year.

In This Story
Adam Lauring Adam Lauring, MD, PhD

Professor

Snitkin-Evan-2024 Evan Snitkin, PhD

Associate Professor

headshot of eresa OMeara-Teresa-2023.png Teresa O'Meara, PhD

Assistant Professor

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