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Pandemic research project gets $1.6M funding


Hamilton, ON – McMaster University’s Dr Mark Loeb and his research team have received funding of $1.6 million to work isolated Hutterite communities to understand the transmission of pandemic diseases like influenza.

The funding is from the Rx&D Health Research Foundation (HRF), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Dr Loeb will work with Hutterite communities in western Canada to examine the transmission of flu viruses from person to person and from pigs to humans. Dr Loeb is an internationally recognized expert in infectious disease epidemiology, and has studied SARS (as founding director of the Canadian SARS Research Network), West Nile virus, and antibiotic use and resistance. His team’s new research will detect influenza viruses in humans and pigs in Hutterite communities, and use computer modelling to analyze the transmission of the virus.

“Hutterite communities are uniquely well-suited to this sort of research, because they are active swine farmers and because they live in isolation from mainstream society,” he says. “We hope to use this research grant to learn important lessons about how disease spreads and how to prevent it.”

The research team includes:
– Dr Mark Loeb, McMaster University (principal investigator)
– Dr Margaret Russell, University of Calgary
– Dr Jonathan Dushoff, McMaster University
– Dr David Earn, McMaster University
– Dr Kevin Fonseca, Provincial Laboratory for Public Health, Calgary
– Dr Julie Fox, Provincial Laboratory for Public Health, Calgary
– Dr Julia Keenliside, Alberta Agriculture and Food, Edmonton
– Dr Mathieu Lemire, McGill University, Quebec and Genome Quebec
– Dr Marek Smieja, McMaster University
– Dr Stephen Walter, McMaster University
– Dr Richard Webby, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis

The announcement is the first of a series of annual thematic grants to be made by the HRF on important public health issues. HRF, one of the leading private granting foundations in Canada, has awarded over $23 million to over 1,400 researchers in the past 20 years alone.

“It’s gratifying to researchers to see funding come from foundations such as the HRF, as it indicates a willingness to give back and to further basic and applied research into important subjects,” said Peter George, president of McMaster University. “This is a critical study, and we’re particularly pleased to see Dr Loeb’s innovative work given well-deserved recognition with this grant.”