Researchers at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health have received a five-year, $1.7 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to help guide norovirus vaccine decision-making. The grant will support the researchers’ multiscale mathematical modeling studies, which aim to understand the dynamics of norovirus at the human host, viral and epidemiological levels.
Led by Dr. Ben Lopman, the research team which includes the Emory College of Arts and Sciences and the University of Georgia College of Public Health will conduct a series of studies using mathematical models to address questions like how many strains of norovirus does a vaccine need to protect against, and for how long might protection last.
“Norovirus, like the better-studied influenza, is diverse and rapidly evolving, so it’s been hard to develop effective vaccines,” says Dr. Lopman. “But, we don’t yet have the richness of data or depth of understanding about norovirus biology or epidemiology. Our team brings together experts in norovirus with collaborators who have developed innovative mathematical models to study flu. With this investment, we’ll apply those methods to advance our understanding of norovirus.”
The team will be particularly monitoring whether the vaccine reduces shedding, the process through which the virus can spread from one person to another.
“When a person sheds less, there’s less potential for transmission,” said UGA’s Dr. Andreas Handel, who will be applying models to individual-level data collected from the company developing the norovirus vaccine.
“So, if we can get that patient-level data and determine that person who gets the vaccine sheds some fraction less compared to the people who don’t get the vaccine, that would have an impact on the population scale,” he explained. “This is how the different levels connect.”Norovirus is the most common culprit for hospitalizing children with vomiting and diarrhea in the United States. In the U.S. alone, noroviruses cause more than 20 million episodes of diarrheal disease annually. On a global scale, norovirus kills 200,000 people every year.
“A norovirus vaccine would be a tremendous asset for public health,” says Dr. Lopman, who notes that vaccines are currently in late-stage human trials. “In the end, we want a norovirus vaccine that will be most valuable for public health. This research will aim to steer vaccine development and, ultimately, vaccine use in that direction.”