University of Michigan receives $13.8M to establish center for pandemic preparedness

Biosciences Initiative award to create new Michigan Center for Infectious Disease Threats

Credit: Michigan Medicine | University of Michigan

ANN ARBOR – Researchers combatting the COVID-19 pandemic around the world tend to agree on one thing: This won’t be the last pandemic.

“Since 2000, we’ve had three coronaviruses that are new to humans cause outbreaks or the current pandemic,” infectious disease expert at the University of Michigan School of Public Health Aubree Gordon said in a news release. “And we’ve had three influenza viruses try to make the jump from animals to humans, and one succeeded. So what’s the likelihood that we see another pandemic in our lives? I’ll say the likelihood is pretty high.”

The Biosciences Initiative will award U-M with $13.8 million over five years to establish the Michigan Center for Infectious diseases. Gordon will lead the center, where researchers from a variety of disciplines will work on preparedness and response to infectious diseases.

To do this, they will increase lab capacity, strengthen the public health workforce, add testing of zoonotic pathogens and expand “protein production for disease-testing capacity,” according to a news release.

“The overall objective of the center is to connect researchers here on campus and better prepare the University of Michigan both locally and globally for pandemic preparedness and response, to create a community here on campus revolving around infectious disease,” Gordon, an associate professor of epidemiology, said in a statement. “The center will create synergies across our multiple schools and departments and make us competitive for the recruitment of scientists to fill critical research area gaps.”

Before SARS-CoV-2 arrived in the U.S., Gordon said many experts had warned about the lack of the country’s preparedness for the next pandemic.

“The world was not ready for the pandemic, our nation was not ready for the pandemic and our campus was not ready for the pandemic,” she said in a statement.

Gordon said U-M is poised to become a leader in new and reemerging infectious diseases due to its “exceptionally” strong programs. These include immunology, virology, infectious disease epidemiology, bioengineering, pharmaceutical sciences and mathematical modeling.

In addition to these specialties, Gordon said U-M’s center for public policy and social science research is a national leader and has been essential for pandemic response.

“The MCIDT is a great example of what the initiative was designed to do, bring together scientists across the breadth of U-M to address critical emerging problems in the life sciences,” director of the Biosciences Initiative Roger Cone said in a release.

“We hope that with this funding, when the next pandemic hits, we will be at the ready, with all the resources of the university at our disposal to provide the best response possible,” Gordon added in a statement.

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.