A 3D illustration of blue disease cells.

VCU joins national research initiative to combat infectious disease threats to public health

The Pathogen Genomics Centers of Excellence will serve as a national network to advance genomic surveillance of infectious disease threats. (Getty Images)
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 Virginia Commonwealth University is joining a national initiative to establish Pathogen Genomics Centers of Excellence across the country. The $90 million project, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aims to develop and improve genomic innovations for preventing, controlling and responding to infectious disease threats.

The Virginia Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, one of the funding recipients for this project, will partner with VCU, the Virginia Department of Health and the University of Virginia to develop one of the five centers of excellence.

Since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, national organizations and agencies, public health laboratories, academic institutions and large private sector diagnostic networks have worked together to unlock important genetic details of the SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. These partnerships have helped researchers characterize the virus, detect new variants, monitor their spread and evaluate the effectiveness of medical treatments. The network of Pathogen Genomics Centers of Excellence will build on these scientific collaborations to further study SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens that may threaten public health in the future.

“We are extremely pleased to bring VCU's expertise in pathogen genomics to bear on the many issues that we face in public health,” said P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation at VCU. “Working together with these partners, we look forward to addressing the pathogens that may emerge as the current and future microbial threats of public health importance.”

VCU’s team is a collaboration among faculty members of the Center for Microbiome Engineering and Data Analysis, a universitywide, highly interdisciplinary effort supported by the VCU Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.

Combined, the five centers of excellence will serve as a national network to identify unmet needs and opportunities for genomics in the United States public health system, pilot and implement genomics technologies and applications for public health, and prepare for and respond to infectious disease threats.

The network also serves as an opportunity to strengthen collaboration between U.S. public health agencies and universities to form a national resource that will advance genomic surveillance of life-threatening pathogens.

As a leading institution in infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship, VCU is well equipped to advance research for tackling infectious diseases. VCU and VCU Health have been on the front lines for strengthening the state’s infection prevention and control workforceensuring equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia, improving public messaging in a health crisis and examining the long-term outcomes of patients with COVID-19, among many other efforts.