New Emory initiatives drive innovation in the basic sciences


The "From Molecular Pathogenesis to Global Pandemics" initiative is led by professors Ken Moberg, Jaap de Roode and Guido Silvestri.
The "From Molecular Pathogenesis to Global Pandemics" initiative is led by professors Ken Moberg, Jaap de Roode and Guido Silvestri.

The From Molecular Pathogenesis to Global Pandemics initiative is led by Guido Silvestri, Jaap de Roode and Ken Moberg. De Roode is associate professor of biology in Emory College and an expert in host-parasite interactions. Moberg is associate professor of cell biology in the School of Medicine.

The project will take a comprehensive, cross-disciplinary approach to the threat of emerging and reemerging infectious diseases, cutting across “scales” of research, beginning with studies of the host-pathogen interaction, then defining novel targets for drugs and vaccines, and ultimately optimizing implementation of new preventive and therapeutic interventions.

“If you’re studying flu in humans, you’re not getting the full story because we get flu from pigs and birds,” explains de Roode. “Most researchers in infectious diseases are focused at one level.”

Epidemiologists study a disease across a population, for instance, while immunologists look at the effects of a pathogen on an individual’s immune system. Disease ecologists, meanwhile, explore how pathogens can spread through an environment, jumping among humans, livestock and wildlife.

“Teaming up researchers from different areas will give us the power to take on bigger questions and have more of an impact,” says de Roode. “We will gain more potential to predict outbreaks before they happen—or at least to respond more quickly to outbreaks when they occur.”

In addition to the expertise of scientists in Emory College, medicine, public health and Yerkes, Emory has the benefit of having the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adjacent to its campus, and Emory researchers have many ongoing collaborations with CDC scientists.

“I can think of no better place on the planet than Emory to formalize a comprehensive approach to emerging and reemerging infectious diseases,” de Roode says.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be part of this brand-new initiative that focuses on a fast-moving field of biomedical research and that also leverages existing strengths of our university,” says Silvestri. “The program will provide tremendous opportunities for transformative science in the areas of host-pathogen interaction, infectious diseases and vaccines. Ultimately, this will allow us to more effectively prevent emerging and reemerging infectious threats.”

Adds Moberg, “In looking around the world at new emerging pathogens, such as swine flu in China and Ebola in West Africa, this is an opportune time to take advantage of Emory synergies and get ahead of the game in better understanding pathogens and coming up with therapeutics. Our Emory strengths within medicine, the Vaccine Center, Yerkes, public health and the college can propel us to the forefront of this field. And an important component will be our partnership with CDC, with their boots on the ground in global pandemics and their goldmine of epidemiological data.”

“Deans Sukhatme and Elliott deserve a lot of credit for foresight and bravery to envision this initiative,” notes Moberg. “They’ve put their trust in us, and we really want to succeed and make a lasting impact in these fields of research.”

Emory Report | May 28, 2019

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