Center of Emphasis in Infectious Diseases
The purpose of the Center of Emphasis in Infectious Diseases is to expand the capacity of infectious disease research in key areas of border-population health, particularly research in influenza, vector-borne viral illnesses (ex. West Nile), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Cross-border infectious disease transmission is a significant public health and border security concern because residents of the Paso del Norte Region are medically underserved, economically disadvantaged, and geographically isolated. Infectious diseases can be particularly difficult to deal with in areas where low health literacy and crowding may compound the spread of disease. HIV, Dengue, and West Nile infections are some examples of diseases prevalent in the region.
The center has a vaccine development program that is attempting to generate mucosa vaccines against ordinary seasonal infections, but also against infectious agents that might be used as biological weapons. For instance, a current research interest is in developing influenza vaccines that don't require embryonated chick eggs for production and contain conserved B and T-cell epitopes to utilize cognate help and generate a broader, more long-lasting immunity to influenza.
In addition, viruses such as West Nile and St. Louis Encephalitis can cause devastating brain infections in humans and there are no treatments or vaccines for these infections. The center has identified several siRNA's that can act as broad-spectrum antiviral agents and has found that such a treatment can provide near complete protection against a fatal West Nile disease in animal models.
Today, the center has developed NIH-funded programs in West Nile Virus and Influenza, HIV, and St. Louis Encephalitis.