Pam King Sams
Penn Medicine gets $7 million grant to study flu virus, help understand pandemics.
After COVID-19, we may think the flu is not a big problem.
But it is one, according to Dr. Scott Hensley, professor of microbiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
"We are just as susceptible to a flu pandemic strain today as we were a year ago. I don't want to be all doomsday, but that is just the reality," Hensley said.
"Flu pandemics occur in humans. They jump from animals to humans every 10 to 20 years in a pretty unpredictable fashion. So our center is going to try to identify viral strains that are in birds and pigs, to identify those viral strains that have pandemic potential."
Penn's Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Response (CEIRR) is just one of five in the country to study flu risk, pandemic plans and the evolution of influenza.
"We have a poor understanding of the evolutionary pressures that drive influenza to change one way or another. So, one major goal of our center is to better understand influenza virus evolution," Hensley said.
"Why do we want to do this? Is this just basic science question? No, we want to do this because we want to be able to forecast which flu strains will circulate in the upcoming season, so that we can better match our influenza flu strain to what actually circulate."
The grant is for the first year of a contract that is to be supported for six additional years.
It comes from The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAD), part of the National Institutes of Health. The other centers are located in New York, Tennessee and two in Georgia.