A project funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program brought together campus basic scientists and clinical infectious disease and population health faculty to focus on translating new discoveries into clinical advances aimed at reducing the threat of infectious disease.

The project created the Wisconsin Center for Infectious Disease (WisCID) to investigate microbiological areas of public health importance and translate the research findings into new treatments and preventive measures in response to the alarming rise of drug-resistant infections.

Infectious disease is the second leading cause of death worldwide and new threats from disease-causing, antibiotic-resistant micro-organisms are occurring at an alarming rate. Dr. Bruce Klein, professor of pediatrics and medical microbiology and immunology and principal investigator of WisCID said, “The virtual Center was designed to integrate what at the time of the award were fragmented efforts of outstanding campus physicians and scientists to allow them to better apply the tools of microbiology, immunology and public health to combat these threats.”

The Center’s main goal was to foster interdisciplinary research and training in microbiology and infectious disease that promoted discovery and translated into public health benefits. WisCID was especially successful in fostering new collaborations and extramurally funded research in antimicrobial drug discovery, symbiosis (beneficial microbiology) and immunity and inflammation.

WisCID fostered many collaborations and initiatives including a pilot project grant program that leveraged additional funding within its first year. One of the projects, led by Dr. Tony Goldberg, professor of pathobiological sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, investigated novel tools for viral discovery and pandemic prevention.

WisCID was also successful in supporting training in microbiology and infectious disease. The Center provided learning opportunities for 40 pre- and postdoctoral trainees. Post-doctoral student Grischa Chen focused his research on understanding strategies that bacterial pathogens use to survive inside mammalian cells and cause disease.

“WisCID was successful in achieving its goals,” said Dr. Klein. “The project fostered new collaborations and extramurally funded research, expanded training opportunities through funding of Microbes in Health and Disease, a National Institutes for Health (NIH) supported training program, and provided a pre- and post-doctoral training program.”

The project’s focus on drug discovery was particularly successful and helped leverage a five-year, $16 million NIH Center for Excellence in Translational Research (CETR) grant at UW-Madison focused on anti-microbial drug discovery.

WisCID helps leverage funding for new research

The Wisconsin Center for Infectious Disease (WisCID), funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program, helped leverage a five-year $16 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center for Excellence in Translational Research (CETR) grant at UW-Madison. The grant aims to find new sources of antibiotics to combat the rising number of dangerous and deadly antibiotic-resistant infections.

A multidisciplinary team of researchers led by Dr. David Andes, professor of medicine and division chief of infectious diseases, is using this funding to study natural products from microbes isolated from insects and marine animals for antibiotic development.

“Our team has developed a completely new model for anti-infective drug discovery,” Dr. Andes said. “We have developed novel ways of finding new antibiotics and testing them rapidly. It’s a fresh approach catalyzed by complementary input from basic and physician scientists, microbiologists, chemists and pharmacologists who are thinking about the same thing.”

The team is looking at two groups of relevant microbes: fungi associated with infections in immunocompromised patients like cancer and transplant patients, and the bacteria responsible for the majority of U.S. hospital infections. “There are patients in almost every hospital with infections that have absolutely no treatment options,” said Dr. Andes. But the team is seeing promising results. “We’ve been finding large numbers of new compounds at a rate greater than what the pharmaceutical industry ever did,” said Dr. Andes.

To date, 400 novel compounds have been discovered which are being tested for development as antibiotics.