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$12 million grant renewal for flu vaccine research

The Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection will use the grant to try to improve the seasonal flu vaccine by analyzing the human immune system in-depth.

- By Bruce Goldman

Mark Davis

The National Institutes of Health has awarded the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection a five-year, $12 million renewal of a grant for the study of how people respond to influenza vaccination.

With the renewal, the total amount granted for this project through 2024 will have exceeded $69 million since the first award in 2003.

“This represents a milestone in efforts to understand the human immune system, an area that has been sorely neglected but is a major part of anyone’s health,” said the grant’s principal investigator, Mark Davis, PhD, director of the institute and professor of microbiology and immunology. “It also represents a new ‘team science’ model and a breakout from decades of thinking that mice were the only species worth studying.”

The project’s primary goal, Davis said, is to better understand the human immune system, how it varies and why, using new technologies, new ideas and new ways to improve an influenza vaccine that “is so ineffective in many people, especially the elderly, that it is one the top priorities for improvement.”

Much of the work is being done through Stanford’s Human Immune Monitoring Center, directed by Holden Maecker, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology. Davis, who holds the Burt and Marion Avery Family Professorship, praised the center as having created “the world’s best high-tech engine of human immune discovery, gathering huge amounts of data from carefully constructed clinical studies and subjecting these data to rigorous analysis.”

In 2008, Davis wrote a controversial essay asserting that human immunology wasn’t making much progress and suggesting that it needed to focus less on mice and more on direct human studies, and to do so using systems-biology approaches.

“But having these ideas of what’s wrong is not the same as having acknowledged solutions, so my colleagues and I have spent the time since then figuring out how to implement these ideas and advance the field,” he said. “This latest renewal is an acknowledgement that Stanford is making unique and valuable contributions in this area.”

The center also received a separate $50 million grant from the Gates Foundation in 2015.

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