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University of Maryland School of Medicine Institute of Human Virology Researchers Receive $6.5M to Create African Big Data Hub Designed to Address Public Health and Pandemic Preparedness

November 04, 2021 | Vanessa McMains

Alash’le Abimiku, PhDResearchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM)’s Institute of Human Virology (IHV), a Global Virus Network (GVN) Center of Excellence, have received $6.5 million from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to streamline big data collection in Nigeria and South Africa in addressing public health needs of the COVID-19 and HIV pandemics.

The U54 grant, named INFORM Africa, was awarded in September 2021. As one of seven research hubs in Africa, INFORM Africa will serve as an NIH Data Science and Innovation Research Hub (DS-I Africa) to support data science and innovation training programs in Africa, promote research on the ethical, legal, and social implications central to health research and innovation in Africa, and establish an open data science platform and coordinating center. The funds also establish a Data Management and Analysis Core to collect and evaluate both existing and new data assembled for the Research Hub. Researchers of the INFORM Africa grant will work with public and private sectors led by Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria (IHVN), in collecting information to better understand the many variables impacting the COVID-19 pandemic.

“By utilizing large datasets on HIV and SARS-CoV-2 from two of Africa’s largest and most affected countries, INFORM Africa will be able to provide new and unique insights on the relationships about both viruses’ mobility, as well as their impact on each other, so that governments across Africa can better respond to these current epidemics and future threats,” said grant co-awardee Alash’le Abimiku, PhD, Professor of Medicine, Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Executive Director of the International Research Center of Excellence, IHVN. “We look forward to addressing the longstanding challenge in Africa in lacking the capacity to secure, curate, and analyze high-quality, large datasets.”

INFORM Africa will focus on three research projects. One project will study the impact of how SARS-CoV-2 spreads by studying human movements. The second project will focus on where the virus is distributed and how it may mutate to form new strains that may change its behavior. The last project will look at the interplay between factors such as location, spread, and population demographics, as to how it effects the twin pandemics (SARS-CoV-2 and HIV).

Man Charurat, PhD“Faced with a new highly infectious agent, and poor health infrastructure, IHV and UMSOM have engaged colleagues from the Maryland Transportation Institute and University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Transportation Technology Laboratory at College Park, led by Dr. Xiong, to facilitate the proposed data-driven research,” said the grant’s other co-awardee Man Charurat, PhD, MHS, Professor of Medicine, and Director of the Division of Epidemiology and Prevention, Research and Global Director of Ciheb, at University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute of Human Virology. “This partnership will ensure optimal management of data streams and development of appropriate tools and workflows for innovative data analytics that will transform biomedical and behavioral research and improved health across Africa.”

Dr. Abimiku and Dr. Charurat will work alongside Kristen Stafford, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health and Deputy Director of Ciheb, Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine; Mohammad Sajadi, MD, Professor of Medicine, Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine; Patrick Dakum, MBBS, MPH, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland School of Medicine; Meagan Fitzpatrick, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at University of Maryland School of Medicine and member of at University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health; investigators from the Maryland Transportation Institute; CAPRISA and Stellenbosch University in South Africa; and Akros in Zambia. 

E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA“As a result of this team’s extensive experience setting up the HIV-care infrastructure in several Sub-Saharan African countries, they are poised to take the next step forward in developing a more integrated infectious diseases monitoring network,” said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBAExecutive Vice President for Medical Affairs at University of Maryland Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Rather than responding reactively, the team will be able to see patterns as they emerge, which will enable public health officials to intervene earlier and keep citizens safer.”

Robert C. Gallo, MDRobert C. Gallo, MD, the Homer & Martha Gudelsky Distinguished Professor in Medicine, Co-Founder and Director, Institute of Human Virology (IHV), University of Maryland School of Medicine, and GVN Co-Founder and International Scientific Director, said: “Drs. Abimiku and Charurat have been integral in the Institute’s seventeen years of work in countries funded through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and more specifically and significantly, in Nigeria. I am pleased to see this team build upon their vast experience and grow their international portfolio with NIH to implement INFORM Africa and identify current public health needs and prepare for future outbreaks.”

The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration for high impact innovative research, such as the African-led Human Hereditary and Health in Africa (H3Africa). NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, established the DS-I Africa initiative through the Common Fund to support the vision of harnessing data science in Africa for rapid advances to improve health.

About the Institute of Human Virology

Formed in 1996 as a partnership between the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore, the University System of Maryland, and the University of Maryland Medical System, the IHV is an institute of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and is home to some of the most globally-recognized and world-renowned experts in all of virology. The IHV combines the disciplines of basic research, epidemiology, and clinical research in a concerted effort to speed the discovery of diagnostics and therapeutics for a wide variety of chronic and deadly viral and immune disorders - most notably, HIV the virus that causes AIDS. For more information, visit www.ihv.org and follow us on Twitter @IHVmaryland.

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Now in its third century, the University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 as the first public medical school in the United States. It continues today as one of the fastest growing, top-tier biomedical research enterprises in the world -- with 46 academic departments, centers, institutes, and programs, and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians, scientists, and allied health professionals, including members of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and a distinguished two-time winner of the Albert E. Lasker Award in Medical Research.  With an operating budget of more than $1.2 billion, the School of Medicine works closely in partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide research-intensive, academic and clinically based care for nearly 2 million patients each year. The School of Medicine has nearly $600 million in extramural funding, with most of its academic departments highly ranked among all medical schools in the nation in research funding.  As one of the seven professional schools that make up the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine has a total population of nearly 9,000 faculty and staff, including 2,500 students, trainees, residents, and fellows. The combined School of Medicine and Medical System (“University of Maryland Medicine”) has an annual budget of over $6 billion and an economic impact of nearly $20 billion on the state and local community. The School of Medicine, which ranks as the 8th highest among public medical schools in research productivity (according to the Association of American Medical Colleges profile) is an innovator in translational medicine, with 606 active patents and 52 start-up companies.  In the latest U.S. News & World Report ranking of the Best Medical Schools, published in 2021, the UM School of Medicine is ranked #9 among the 92 public medical schools in the U.S., and in the top 15 percent (#27) of all 192 public and private U.S. medical schools.  The School of Medicine works locally, nationally, and globally, with research and treatment facilities in 36 countries around the world. Visit medschool.umaryland.edu

Contact

Vanessa McMains, PhD
Director, Media & Public Affairs
University of Maryland School of Medicine
Institute of Human Virology
vmcmains@ihv.umaryland.edu
Cell: 443-875-6099

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