Gates Foundation Grants $1.3 Million for Pandemic Flu Research

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has received a $1.3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support research aimed at understanding the molecular features that lead to influenza pandemics, the school announced yesterday. UW-Madison will collaborate with Maryland-based biotech company Lentigen Corp. on the project.

As part of the grant, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and Lentigen Corp. have agreed to broadly disseminate the knowledge generated in this project to the scientific community. This means that key pieces of the intellectual property created during the project will be donated by WARF to the international research community in an effort to improve human health across the globe. Led by influenza researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka, the project will use high-throughput screening systems to sift through influenza viral protein libraries to identify mutations that would allow avian influenza to infect humans.

Kawaoka, who has a joint appointment at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Tokyo, created a method for screening avian influenza sequences to determine when the virus jumps from birds to humans. World health experts are concerned that such a jump would trigger a flu pandemic similar to the pandemics of 1918, 1957 and 1968. The global health disaster that occurred in 1918 killed between 20 million and 40 million people. The intention of WARF and Lentigen is to make diagnostic tools and vaccines for avian flu accessible to people in the developing countries of the world.

The grant is the first made by the Gates Foundation to UW-Madison to support a global public health initiative. A previous grant from the Gates Foundation was given to the Division of Library Sciences.

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