UWI Mona joins global virus network to combat viral diseases

UWI Mona joins global virus network to combat viral diseases

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

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Jamaica, through The University of the West Indies, Mona, is now home to a Centre of Excellence in the Global Virus Network (GVN) – a coalition of leading virologists spanning more than 29 countries across six continents.

All the centres work to advance knowledge of how viruses operate and to develop drugs and vaccines to prevent illness and death.

Professor Robert Gallo, co-founder and scientific director, officially announced the addition of The University of the West Indies, Mona (UWI) as the home of the newest Centre of Excellence at the launch hosted at the Kenneth Standard Lecture Theatre in the Faculty of Medical Sciences, The UWI, Mona, on Tuesday, February 19.

In addition to now having 46 Centres of Excellence, the GVN has seven affiliates and currently has 51 viruses under study across 26 fields – from arbovirology to vaccinology. Within these Centres of Excellence the world’s top virologists research the viruses that pose the greatest threat to public health and to humankind.

“This unique level of collaboration gives the GVN the ability to work on all classes of viruses — making this network the only one in the world to encompass such a vast range of viral threats. A number of these viruses are known throughout the world— Chikungunya, HIV, hepatitis B, Ebola, Zika, dengue, influenza, HTLV-1, etc. Because no single institution in the world has expertise in all viral areas, the GVN brings the best medical virologists together to leverage individual strengths and to focus global teams of scientists on key scientific problems, a release from the UWI said yesterday.

“The strength of the centres lies in the power of our network. This new addition is particularly important as we strengthen GVN’s international reach,” said Prof Gallo, who is also director of the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a GVN Centre of Excellence.

“I have a long history of working with The UWI and look forward to collaborating again through GVN initiatives. We also look forward to working with colleagues in Jamaica through The UWI to explore new research projects, such as those involving endemic viruses in the region including HIV and HTLV, and to examine and implement best practices as we work together to enhance the global safety net against viral disease” Dr Gallo said.

Director of the GVN Centre of Excellence at The UWI Mona, Dr Joshua Anzinger said “having a GVN Centre of excellence in Jamaica means we are at the table with experts from all over the globe who are working to understanding viruses throughout different regions and also to be able to respond to and study them”.

This, he said, really positions The UWI, and by extension, Jamaica and the Caribbean very well in terms of being able to study these viruses. According to Dr Anzinger, although we do have some level of infrastructure and we can study them to some degree, we perhaps may not have some degree of expertise for a particular virus; there may be some kind of equipment that we don’t have but collaborators abroad may have those. Being in this Network gives us some degree of access.

The UWI Mona was inducted as a GVN Affiliate through collaborations with three GVN Centres of Excellence including: the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine; University at Buffalo, State University of New York; and, Colorado State University.

Commenting on the importance of having this Centre of Excellence, John Lindo, professor of parasite epidemiology in the Faculty of Medical Sciences, said: “UWI Mona has Jamaica’s only virus laboratory with the capability of handling live viruses for medical diagnosis and scientific research.”

“It also has a cadre of highly trained virologists and is the site of the National Influenza Centre. Using this unique capability in the country, The UWI will collaborate with GVN, leveraging their expertise, to better respond to outbreak of viruses such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika in Jamaica and better prepare for additional global threats including Influenza and Ebola,” he added.

 

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