HSC Enters Partnership to Study Infectious Diseases

Contact:  Sam Giammo (505) 272-3682

Santa Fe - The UNM Health Sciences Center (HSC) Infectious Disease and Inflammation Center will partner with deCODE Genetics, Inc., to study the genetics of infectious diseases and vaccine response.  The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) awarded deCODE a five-year, $23.9 million grant to conduct the study.  The National Center for Genome Research (NCGR) will also be a partner in the study.  New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, UNM President Louis Caldera and deCODE CEO Kari Stefansson, made the announcement today in the governor's office in Santa Fe.

Identifying the genes that protect or fail to protect the body from infectious diseases promises to provide a foundation for better treatment and prevention.  HSC researchers will receive $5 million of the contract amount to work with deCODE, a genetics firm based in Iceland, and the Santa Fe-based NCGR. 

Under the leadership of President Caldera and R. Philip Eaton, M.D., UNM executive vice president for Health Sciences, the HSC has been active in fostering economic development by offering opportunities to attract new biomedical and biotechnology companies to New Mexico.  Currently, more than 20 public and private partners are working together in a biomedical research corridor in the Albuquerque area to establish a biomedical / biotechnology industry in New Mexico. 

C. Rick Lyons, M.D., Ph.D., an expert in the study of common pathogens and microbial virulence, will lead the research at UNM.  "This is the first large-scale attempt anywhere to use genomics and proteinomics to determine why individuals respond to infectious diseases the way they do," Lyons said.  Lyons is director of the Infectious Disease and Inflammation Center and associate professor of Medicine and Oncology in the School of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine.

Under the contract, deCODE will conduct population- and genome-wide screenings in Iceland to search for key genes involved in resistance to tuberculosis; adverse reaction to smallpox vaccination; and elevated susceptibility to influenza and certain bacterial infections, such as those that cause pneumonia and meningitis.  UNM Researchers will perform the functional work on targets identified by deCODE.

The NCGR, headed by Dr. Stephen Kingsmore, will design and maintain an Immune Response Database, an internet-based resource that will enable investigators to query and visualize the results of this project in the context of existing data on the genetics of immune response.

"In New Mexico, as in other states, the interface between research universities and industry is one of the most important ways to advance economic development," said UNM President Caldera.   "UNM has already gained a reputation in this field as a result of previous research by Dr. Lyons and his colleagues.  However, the groundbreaking work that will result from this partnership with deCODE and NCGR will also push the Health Sciences Center more fully into the international arena.  We believe, in the years to come, our participation on this new frontier of health research will benefit all New Mexicans."

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center provides added value to health care through leadership in providing innovative, collaborative education; advancing frontiers of science through research critical to the future of health care; delivering health care services that are at the forefront of science; and facilitating partnerships with public and private biomedical and health enterprises. For more information on the UNM Health Sciences Center, visit http://hsc.unm.edu. 

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