UH Medical School Awarded More Than $9 Million to Establish a Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research

NIH grant will fund new center with research focus on emerging infectious diseases affecting communities in Hawaii and throughout the Asia-Pacific region

University of Hawaiʻi
Dr. Richard Yanagihara, (808) 956-6980
John A. Burns School of Medicine
Kristen Cabral, (808) 956-5039
Public Information Officer
Posted: Nov 24, 2003

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa‘s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) was recently awarded a five-year $9.6 million grant to establish a Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research. Awarded as part of the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program of the National Institutes of Health‘s (NIH) National Center for Research Resources, the grant is a significant advancement in the medical school‘s efforts to establish itself as a center of excellence in tropical medicine and infectious diseases research.

A dramatic global resurgence of infectious diseases—HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, dengue fever, West Nile encephalitis, and the most recent outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS—has occurred during the past 25 years, so much so that infectious diseases are now the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. The developing countries of the tropical Asia-Pacific region have been among those geographic areas hardest hit by the resurgence, and Hawaiʻi is not immune either, with occurrences of dengue fever within the past few years.

"Hawaiʻi‘s geographical location and the outstanding faculty and researchers here conducting groundbreaking studies on infectious diseases make the university the ideal setting for such a center," said JABSOM Dean Edwin Cadman. "This grant will help us lay the foundation for establishing the medical school and UH as a global leader in research and training for tropical medicine and infectious diseases."

Research and training programs within the center will focus on the molecular epidemiology and the origin and development of infectious diseases that are of local and regional importance and that disproportionately affect under-served ethnic minorities and disadvantaged communities in Hawaiʻi and the Asia-Pacific region.

Led by Dr. Richard Yanagihara, professor of pediatrics and researcher with decades of experience in infectious disease field research in the Asia-Pacific region, the center will draw on the complementary strengths and multidisciplinary expertise within JABSOM and the Cancer Research Center of Hawaiʻi (CRCH). It will also have a strong linkage with the Hawaiʻi Department of Health (DOH).

"The prevention and control of infectious diseases demand expertise from more than a single discipline," says Yanagihara. "The unique resources available not only through the medical school, but through other departments at the university and organizations throughout the state of Hawaiʻi provide a great advantage in studying emerging infectious diseases in the region and in training future scientists to combat these diseases."

Yanagihara has compiled a team of faculty, researchers and junior investigators who are pursuing innovative studies at UH Mānoa. Among them are Vivek Nerurkar, research professor and director of the Retrovirology Research Laboratory; Marc Goodman, professor, CRCH; George Hui, research professor, JABSOM; Paul Effler, state epidemiologist and chief, Division of Disease Outbreak and Control, DOH; Allison Imrie, assistant professor, JABSOM; Guliz Erdem, assistant professor, JABSOM; and Brenda Hernandez, assistant professor, CRCH.

The Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research is part of a larger vision for research excellence in tropical medicine and infectious diseases at the university. It will be one of three pillar programs that will make up the Asia-Pacific Institute of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases, a new initiative within the medical school directed by world-renowned arbovirologist Dr. Duane J. Gubler.