HONOLULU (AP) - An $11 million federal grant will enable the University of Hawaii's Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research to continue work on dengue and other infectious diseases.
Richard Yanagihara, the center's director, said Monday that the five-year grant will enable the center to become a science center focusing on emerging and re-emerging microbial threats of regional concern and global importance.
"The newfound knowledge will accelerate the development of rapid diagnostic tests and improved drugs to treat these diseases," Yanagihara said in a news release.
Researchers also will explore the development of new prevention strategies, including affordable vaccines, he said.
A dengue outbreak in Hawaii in 2001 helped lead to the establishment of the center in 2003.
One of the center's main research targets is West Nile virus, which hasn't yet reached Hawaii or Alaska but has sickened and killed people in the other 48 states and Puerto Rico, Yanagihara said.
"We are very interested in diseases of the central nervous system, and West Nile virus is one of the foremost causes of acute encephalomyelitis, or infection of the brain and spinal cord," he said.
Scientists are interested in knowing how the virus travels from the blood stream to the brain - specifically "what kinds of events occur to allow the virus to get into the brain," Yanagihara said.
Understanding the virus "would allow better insights into other mosquito-borne viruses that cause neuroinvasive diseases, such as Japanese encephalitis virus, which is widespread throughout Asia," he said.
The $11 million comes from the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence program of the National Institutes of Health.