The Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics has been awarded the "Center of Excellence" grant by the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant will be used to study the ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) of applying genomics to research on, and the prevention and treatment of infectious disease.
This builds on three years of work of an exploratory Center of Excellence in ELSI Research (CEER) at the Berman Institute, the first such project to focus attention on genomic ELSI issues in the context of infectious disease.
‘The grants from the NIH will be used to examine the use of genomic information in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.’
The new grant establishes the Johns Hopkins program as a Specialized CEER, with over $4 million in funding over four years. Only seven other such centers have been established across the country. The CEER brings together a multidisciplinary team from across Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine, led by co-principal investigators Gail Geller, ScD, MHS and Jeffrey Kahn, PhD, MPH of the Berman Institute.
Infectious diseases account for a significant proportion of illness and death worldwide. "Recent research has suggested that a person's genes can play a significant role in the susceptibility to infection, its severity and transmissibility, and the response to treatment," Geller notes.
"The promise of applying genomic information to the prevention and treatment of disease is driving the NIH's Precision Medicine Initiative, and there are important benefits to be realized in the application of the tools of precision medicine to infectious disease, but also unique ethical, legal, and policy issues," Kahn says.
The Johns Hopkins CEER team members include experts in genomics, immunology and infectious disease, bioethics, epidemiology, public health preparedness, education, and health policy, in keeping with the intention that CEERs create opportunities for transdisciplinary research.
"Johns Hopkins is uniquely suited to examine the ethical, legal, social and policy issues at the intersection of genomics and infectious disease, with a deep bench of global leaders in all of the relevant disciplines," Geller says.
The CEER's transdisciplinary research plan has three specific program areas, each with a unique pilot project. The program on "implications for research" will address the impact of discoveries related to genetic variation in HIV and HCV transmission on cohorts of at-risk urban populations.
The program on "implications for public health policy" will analyze the role and impact of advances in vaccinomics for informing population-based prevention in the context of a pandemic.
The program on "implications for clinical practice" will assess the application of genomics in the clinical management of acute, high consequence infectious diseases like MRSA and Ebola.