Mass General Brigham researchers will play a central role in genomic surveillance and education on emerging and novel pathogens in Harvard Medical School led Consortium
The Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness, which includes over a dozen Mass General Brigham researchers, will play a central role in genomic surveillance and education on emerging and novel pathogens under a new $25 million CDC grant awarded to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The goal of the award is to establish the New England Pathogen Genomics Center of Excellence (PGCoE).
The overarching mission of the effort is to enhance pathogen-sequencing capacity and integrate the resulting genomic data into public health practice throughout New England. The Consortium is led by Harvard Medical School (HMS) and includes collaborators representing over 17 institutions, including Mass General Brigham, propelled by a common mission to address both the immediate and long-term challenges of the COVID-19 crisis and to enhance preparedness for future pandemics.
Mass General Brigham researchers help lead numerous research working groups under the consortium, including therapeutics, clinical management and outcomes, diagnostics, Long COVID (post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 or PASC), viral variants, and biospecimens.
The MassCPR participating institutions will draw on their considerable experience dealing not only with SARS-CoV-2, but with recent outbreaks of both known and novel pathogens, including mumps, hepatitis A, Zika, and monkeypox.
“Genomics has emerged as an important tool in modern epidemiology, particularly when it comes to understanding how viral variants emerge, evolve and spread during an outbreak,” says Lindsey Baden, MD, Director of Center for Clinical Investigation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Professor at Harvard Medical School.
“The Consortium’s collective experience researching known infectious diseases like measles and influenza gives us a head start when it comes to understanding the nuances and complexities of something novel like SARS-CoV-2. I’m excited to see how this collective effort can accelerate our understanding of new diseases and emerging variants we’ve not seen before.”
Another key aspect of the effort will be education and practical training of the public health and clinical workforce regionally, nationally, and internationally.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed critical gaps in our nation’s public health readiness to address emerging, rapidly spreading, and evolving infectious diseases,” said Jake Lemieux, MD, PhD, co-lead of the MassCPR viral variants working group, an infectious disease specialist at Mass General Hospital, and assistant professor of medicine at HMS. “One central deficiency is the inability to swiftly deploy and use microbial sequencing, which requires specialized training and expertise, but more broadly, there’s a need to enhance overall understanding of pathogen properties such as transmissibility, evolution, and virulence.”
To help address these knowledge gaps, MassCPR, through its research-in-practice meetings, will play a central role in sparking a cross-pollination of efforts between public health practitioners and scientists both in the United States and around the world, Lemieux added.
The funding is part of a $90 million CDC grant to establish PGCoEs across the United States, allocated to five state health departments, which, in addition to Massachusetts, include the health departments of Georgia, Minnesota, Virginia, and Washington state. The five-year awards are intended to:
Nationally, a total of $1.7 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) is helping to support current and future genomic surveillance. These funds include $400 million for innovation, and approximately $90 million of this amount will support the Pathogen Genomics Center of Excellence network over the next five years.
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