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NIAID Funds Georgia Malaria Systems Bio Center

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A group of research institutes in Georgia have won a contract of up to $19.4 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to use a systems biology-based approach to studying how host-pathogen interactions are involved in malaria.

The consortium members, including Emory University, the University of Georgia, and Georgia Tech, will work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish the Malaria Host-Pathogen Interaction Center (MaHPIC), which will be administered by Emory's Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

The partners will integrate an array of data types from genomics, proteomics, lipidomics, and metabolomics core labs in informatics and computational modeling cores with the aim of understanding how pathogens and hosts interact at the molecular level.

The larger goal is to make discoveries that will be useful in developing and studying new diagnostics, drugs, and potential vaccines for different types of malaria.

MaHPIC will harness Emory's experience in malaria research, metabolomics, lipidomics, and immunology, UGS's pathogen bioinformatics and database systems expertise, and Georgia Tech's mathematical modeling and systems biology expertise. The CDC will support its proteomics and malaria research efforts.

The center will work with nonhuman primate infections and clinical samples received from around the world to study how a Plasmodium parasite infection affects the host by focusing on genes, proteins, lipids, immune response, and metabolism.

Computational biologists will create models to simulate and analyze what happens during an infection and to search for patterns that could be used to predict how the disease will progress and how severe it will be.

The partners also will use metabolomics approaches to detect and analyze thousands of chemicals using mass spectrometry, and in particular, employ techniques developed by Professor Dean Jones, director of Emory's Clinical Biomarkers Laboratory and head of MaHPIC's metabolomics core.

"MaHPIC will generate experimental, clinical and molecular data associated with malaria infections in nonhuman primates on an unprecedented scale," Jessica Kissinger, a UGA professor of genetics and director of UGA's Institute of Bioinformatics, said in a statement. "In addition to mining the massive quantities of integrated data for trends and patterns that may help us understand host and pathogen interaction biology, we may identify potential targets for early and species-specific diagnosis of malaria, which is critical for proper treatment."

The MaHPIC partners also will create a public website and a web portal that will share the malaria host-pathogen interaction data and analytical tools with the scientific community.

"The sheer amount of detailed, high-quality information amassed by the experimental groups will be unprecedented. With this project we have an incredible opportunity to integrate data with modern computational tools of dynamic modeling," added Professor Eberhard Voit, co-founder of Georgia Tech's Integrative BioSystems Institute. "This integration will allow us to analyze the complex networks of interactions between hosts and parasites in a manner never tried before."

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