January 5, 2022

State awards WSU $4.3 million to increase preparedness to fight infectious diseases

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has awarded $4.3 million to the Wayne State University Center for Emerging and Infectious Diseases. The funds will increase lab facilities to collect and analyze genomic data to address emerging infectious disease threats and enhance the state’s ability to respond to those threats.

The funding, part of $18.5 million provided to WSU, Michigan Tech University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, will increase infectious disease sequencing capacity in the state, beginning with the COVID-19 virus.

“Covid-19 has clearly demonstrated that we need more lab capacity in the state, and specifically in southeast Michigan,” said Marcus Zervos, M.D., co-director of the WSU Center for Emerging and Infectious Diseases and Covid-19 advisor to the City of Detroit. “We must be prepared for the next mutation or the next disease.”

Funding for the program, called Michigan Sequencing Academic Partnership for Public Health Innovation and Response, or MI-SAPPHIRE, was provided through a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity grant received by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The work under the grant will involve sample collection and sequencing; data processing, storage and sharing; and data interpretation and analysis of emerging infectious diseases that pose widespread threats now, and those that may become threats in the future.

“I believe that the MI-SAPPHIRE grant for our Center for Emerging and Infectious Diseases is a calling for WSU that builds on our long relationship with the community and heath care providers. The community of Detroit will truly benefit from this incredible resource,” said Teena Chopra M.D., M.P.H., WSU professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, who will serve as principal investigator for the grant. “In line with the mission of Wayne State University, this is the most opportune time to further our state-of-the-art center in the heart of Detroit and serve the community of Detroit.”

Dr. Chopra, with center co-director Wanqing Liu, Ph.D., associate professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and of Pharmacology, Hossein Salimnia, Ph.D., professor of Pathology will sequence the SARS-COV2 virus and multi-drug resistant infections. Genomic sequencing is a revolutionary technology that reveals the genetic code of infectious disease pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2 and bacterium that are resistant to antibiotic drugs. The technology helps with faster tracking of transmission, control outbreaks in the community, detection of new variants and the development of vaccines.

Wayne State has played a critical role in the region’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The university, through a fleet of Wayne Health vans, offered free testing and vaccine administration to Michigan residents. Laboratory services were provided to many health care organizations, and WSU’s CEID researchers worked with the Henry Ford Health System to support vaccine trails. Those efforts are ongoing.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance and need for genomic sequencing, surveillance and epidemiology capacity both globally and right here in Michigan,” said Elizabeth Hertel, MDHHS director. “The MDHHS Bureau of Laboratories has rapidly expanded its efforts to identify COVID-19 variants since the start of the pandemic to support public health actions. MI-SAPPHIRE will allow our state to expand sequencing and analysis capacity and the number of pathogens that undergo routine sequencing, and ensure we are sampling diverse geographic areas across the state.”

The state, Hertel said, generates more than 25,000 genomes per year for bacterial and viral organisms. Partnerships with the four universities will allow increased capacity and response for SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens.

The WSU Center for Emerging and Infectious Diseases, established in 2021, builds on the university’s experiences in combating COVID-19 to prepare Detroit and the state of Michigan to tackle pandemic diseases. The center is the first of its kind located in an urban setting within the state.

The center’s primary mission is to enhance training, research, engagement and public health infrastructure to address the development of methods to prepare for, prevent and treat emerging and re-emerging infectious and non-communicable diseases. The structure allows coordinated efforts of the diverse and multi-disciplinary expertise of Wayne State researchers, clinicians and instructors. Work may consist of research on vaccine development, clinical vaccine evaluation, introduction and deployment of vaccines for special populations and communities with special attention to underserved populations, development of tools that facilitate planning, recognition and response to outbreaks of emerging infectious disease threats, and research on evidence-based interventions that mitigate the impact of emerging infectious and non-communicable diseases in Detroit and Michigan specifically.

The center also focuses on reducing health disparities associated with infectious pathogens, such as multi-drug-resistant bacteria and viral pathogens that impact residents of Detroit and beyond. Center leaders are developing collaborations with the state, the Detroit Health Department and community organizations to implement programs that benefit community health and reduce disparities related to acute infectious diseases and chronic conditions.

In addition to Drs. Chopra and Liu, center directors include Paul Kilgore, M.D., associate professor of Pharmacy Practice; and Marcus Zervos, M.D., division head of Infectious Diseases at the Henry Ford Health System and professor of Medicine and assistant dean of WSU Global Affairs for the WSU School of Medicine. Key faculty include Phillip Levy, M.D., M.P.H., professor of Emergency Medicine and assistant vice president of Translational Science and Clinical Research for WSU; and Matthew Seeger, Ph.D., professor of Communication. All played decisive roles in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in Detroit and throughout the state and have experience working nationally and globally on emerging infectious planning and response.

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