URI takes aim at neglected tropical diseases, welcomes foreign researchers for training

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PROVIDENCE – January 4, 2011 – This week the University of Rhode Island’s Institute for Immunology and Informatics (I’Cubed) welcomes researchers from all corners of the world as it kicks off an intensive training program targeting the world’s neglected tropical diseases. The workshop will focus on training foreign and domestic researchers interested in using new vaccine design tools developed by URI Professor Annie De Groot.

The training session will take place over three weeks starting January 4 and running through January 21 at the URI Providence Biotechnology Center. I’Cubed has selected 13 fellows from the United States and abroad for the training.

According to De Groot, making informatics tools available to the research community is a primary goal of I’Cubed. Over the course of the next three weeks, training will include a comprehensive, hands-on immunoinformatics and vaccinology core curriculum as well as lab-based immunology training. The goal is to train new researchers to use immunoinformatics tools and develop a cadre of researchers focused on neglected tropical diseases. At the conclusion of the workshop, the researchers will be better equipped to develop new vaccines faster and more effectively in their home laboratories and ultimately reduce the global burden of these diseases.

The workshop is the latest event organized by the research institute, led by De Groot and Denice Spero, the former president of Developing World Cures and former vice president of research at Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals. De Groot is also CEO of the Providence-based biotechnology company EpiVax, Inc.

The World Health Organization defines neglected tropical diseases as “primarily infectious diseases that thrive in impoverished settings, especially in the heat and humidity of tropical climates.” On the list of such diseases are dengue fever, schistosomiasis, chagas disease and leishmaniasis. These diseases and others will be the focus of lectures and lab training during the workshop.

Among the fellows traveling to the United States this week to participate in the training:

• Sibiry Samake, a scientist at the University of Bamako International Center for Excellence in Research in Bamako, Mali. His research involves sand fly infectivity and human immune response to sand fly salivary protein for the development of a vaccine again leishmaniasis.

• Marsia Gustiananda, who hails from the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology in Jakarta, Indonesia, where she has obtained two research grants for her work on mapping T-cell epitopes of influenza.

• Mario Jiz, staff scientist at the Immunology Department of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Manila, Philippines. He recently obtained his Ph.D. at Brown University under a Fulbright fellowship while working on vaccine development for schistosomiasis japonica with Jonathan Kurtis. Jiz plans to continue working on protective immunity, vaccine development and immunoregulation in schistosomiasis and other diseases of public health concern to the Philippines.

The workshop is being funded through a $511,121 award from the National Institutes of Health. The award is a supplement to last year’s $13 million grant for the Translational Immunology Research and Accelerated Vaccine Development program, which established I’Cubed at URI’s Providence Biotechnology Center and included URI among the Cooperative Centers for Human Immunology and Translational Research.