Johns Hopkins gets NIH grant to innovate flu tracking

A new center geared toward improved and innovative flu tracking is the goal behind a grant awarded to researchers at Johns Hopkins University this week by the National Institutes of Health.

The Johns Hopkins researchers will team with four other U.S. institutes--the Icahn School of Medicine at New York-based Mount Sinai Hospital; St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee; the University of Rochester in New York; and Atlanta-based Emory University--to form the new Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance network.

The institutions will store information from their research on a cloud-based computer network accessible to all CEIRS participants, and will work toward creating a nationwide database of influenza cases that other hospitals can access and update in real time.

"The goal is that our work will benefit public health in the U.S. and on a global scale," Richard Rothman, M.D., co-director of the new Johns Hopkins center, said in an announcement.

Andrew Pekosz, Ph.D., who also will co-direct the center, said he thinks that a nationwide database could aid in the development of vaccines.

Through the grant, Johns Hopkins could receive as much as $76 million for its research efforts, according to the Baltimore Business Journal. The initial value of the grant is $16 million.

In February, scientists from Johns Hopkins launched a flu forecasting application. Dubbed FluCast, the app was designed to help hospital emergency departments estimate the number of flu patients a hospital likely would see in a given week using both historical data and information collected through Google Flu Trends. Rothman led development of the app.

However, research recently published in Science determined that Google's flu tracker is not as accurate or reliable as information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study found that Google Flu Trends was especially unreliable during the 2013 flu season, when it overpredicted flu cases by more than double.

To learn more:
- here's the Johns Hopkins announcement
- read the Baltimore Business Journal article

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