Photo by Fred Hutch News Service file
SEATTLE – Sept. 17, 2014 – Researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center received a five-year, $12.5 million award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences that designates the Seattle campus as a MIDAS Center of Excellence. Models of Infectious Disease Agency Study (MIDAS) centers are designated to play a role in planning for national emergencies such as a pandemic or an act of bioterrorism.
Fred Hutch biostatistician Dr. M. Elizabeth (Betz) Halloran will head the new MIDAS center, one of only three such sites across the nation. The centers use computational and mathematical models to advise the U.S. government, including the White House, about the spread of diseases including polio, dengue fever, tuberculosis, influenza – and most recently, Ebola.
“Infectious diseases continue to pose a real and significant threat to the health and welfare of people around the globe,” said Halloran, a researcher in Fred Hutch’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease division and Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Washington. “With our multi-disciplinary approach of cutting-edge mathematical modeling and statistical methods, the MIDAS group will be able to provide national and international leaderships with our research, education and outreach programs, and public health policy related to infectious diseases and interventions.”
Under terms of the award, the new MIDAS center will receive $2.5 million a year for the next five years to study and track the dynamics of the spread of pathogens in the U.S. and around the world. The work includes identification and surveillance of infectious diseases, analysis of the effectiveness and consequences of interventions – and advice to the world leaders who put those policies in place.
Scientists at Fred Hutch will collaborate with researchers at seven other academic sites across the country, including the University of Washington, Northeastern University, the University of Florida, the University of Michigan, Duke University, Emory University and the University of Georgia.
Fred Hutch has been part of a network of MIDAS groups for years, but a center designation elevates the site to a new level. Already, Halloran and other MIDAS scientists have been holding weekly meetings about the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, reporting the results of disease modeling that predicts the epidemic will continue to surge well past World Health Organization expectations.
“Over the last 10 years, the MIDAS investigators at Fred Hutch have studied the dynamics of infectious diseases to provide useful new information on how infectious agents are spreading and how to contain them in real time, both nationally and abroad,” said Dr. Irene Eckstrand, NIGMS scientific officer for the MIDAS program. “The recent emergence and spread of Ebola, enteroviruses, pertussis, dengue and other infectious disease threats underscores the importance of this multi-national MIDAS Center of Excellence as we seek to understand the dynamics of these diseases and how to stop them.”
The MIDAS center will be coordinated through the Center for Statistics and Quantitative Infectious Diseases or CSQUID, at Fred Hutch. The proposal includes plans for four cutting-edge research projects that address the most important problems facing public health regarding a host of diseases.
In addition to disease surveillance and modeling, the MIDAS center is an important hub for training, outreach and diversity. An ongoing summer institute in Statistics and Modeling in Infectious Diseases attracts tops scientists as teachers – and promising scholars as students.
The Seattle site joins MIDAS centers housed at the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Pittsburgh.
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At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home to three Nobel laureates, interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists seek new and innovative ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. Fred Hutch’s pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation led to the development of immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to treat cancer with minimal side effects. An independent, nonprofit research institute based in Seattle, Fred Hutch houses the nation’s first and largest cancer prevention research program, as well as the clinical coordinating center of the Women’s Health Initiative and the international headquarters of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. Private contributions are essential for enabling Fred Hutch scientists to explore novel research opportunities that lead to important medical breakthroughs. For more information visit www.fredhutch.org or follow Fred Hutch on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.