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Leading research to understand, treat, and prevent infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases
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Strategic Plan 2000
NIAID: Planning for the 21st Century

Cornerstones of the Strategic Plan

Immune-Mediated Diseases

Despite considerable remaining gaps in our knowledge, we are steadily increasing our understanding of the body's immune system. As we enter the next century, these advances provide a solid foundation for translating (converting) basic research into clinical applications. NIAID's strategic plan for immune-mediated diseases focuses research efforts in several areas, including (1) developing new tolerogenic and immunomodulatory approaches to treat autoimmune diseases, asthma, allergic diseases, and graft rejection in solid organ, tissue, and cell transplantation; (2) developing effective vaccines to prevent and treat immune-mediated diseases; (3) applying emerging technologies to advance fundamental understanding of immunologic principles and to develop better diagnostic tools, improved patient monitoring techniques, surrogate markers of disease activity, and more effective therapies; and (4) continuing long-term support of fundamental discoveries of immune regulation that may ultimately be translated into practical applications for treating and preventing a broad range of diseases.

Basic Immunology

Continued investment in basic immunology research is a fundamental strategy to help ensure future progress in vaccine development, as well as in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of allergic and immunologic diseases.


  • Mast cells

    Mast cells are responsible for many of the symptoms of allergy. These cells release powerful chemicals in response to allergens.

    Standardize measurement of immune function at the cellular, biochemical, and molecular levels to facilitate understanding of disease pathophysiology.
  • Maintain a pipeline of fundamental discoveries of immune regulation for translation into practical applications for vaccines and a broad range of immune-mediated diseases.
  • Capitalize on immunologic principles to stimulate residual immune function in immunosuppressed individuals.
  • Support underserved areas of research, such as (1) immune regulation at specialized anatomical sites; (2) immune regulation at different stages of human development; and (3) the role of the innate immune system in regulating adaptive immunity.
  • Integrate immune research with other research disciplines, such as cellular and molecular biology, tumor biology, neurology, genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics.

Immune Tolerance

The successful induction of immune tolerance is a major goal for the treatment of many immune-mediated disorders, including autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis; asthma and allergic diseases; and graft rejection of transplanted organs, tissues, and cells. This ability to maintain a tolerant state will be equally important for preventing immune unresponsiveness to vaccines against tumors and infectious diseases.


  • Develop new tolerogenic approaches for the treatment of many immune-mediated diseases.
  • Expand knowledge of the molecular basis for tolerance induction.


Transplantation is the therapy of choice for treating many diseases resulting in organ failure. NIAID's long-term investment in molecular immunology has created extraordinary opportunities to accelerate the clinical application of tolerance induction therapies to achieve long-term, durable graft survival while maintaining immune competence.


  • Improve both short- and long-term clinical outcomes by developing new therapeutic approaches to prevent graft rejection and by continuing to expand our knowledge of the mechanisms of immune rejection.

Asthma and Allergic Diseases

Child being administered lung-function test

Child being administered lung-function test to measure airway resistance and lung capacity.

Allergic diseases, including asthma, are among the major causes of illness and disability in the United States and disproportionately affect disadvantaged inner-city populations. Recent scientific advances in understanding the genetic basis and immunologic mechanisms of asthma and allergic diseases provide new opportunities for prevention and treatment.


  • Develop more effective treatments for asthma and allergic diseases.
  • Develop interventions to prevent disease onset.

Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases affect millions of individuals, but women are disproportionately affected. Alleviating or preventing the debilitating effects of autoimmune disease requires a broad strategy that focuses on disease induction, remission, and relapse; organ damage; genetic susceptibility; the role of infectious and environmental factors; new therapeutic approaches; and eventually designing interventions, such as vaccines, to prevent disease onset.


  • Identify specific autoantigens in autoimmune diseases.
  • Prevent the development of and effectively intervene in ongoing disease.

Genetically Determined Immunodeficiency Diseases

Enormous progress has been made in understanding the molecular basis of a growing number of genetically determined immunodeficiency diseases owing to the gene-discovery tools provided by the Human Genome Project. Still, many disease mechanisms remain to be identified and characterized at the molecular level. Knowledge about the molecular basis of primary immunodeficiency disease is important for understanding the pathogenesis of autoimmune and malignant diseases, which occur with increased frequency among patients with primary immunodeficiencies.


  • Identify gene mutations that cause defects in the immune response leading to disease.
  • Define the physiological roles of the proteins encoded by such genes.
  • Develop effective therapies, including gene therapy, for immunodeficiency disorders.

Immunologic Basis of Effective Human Vaccines

Understanding human immunity is increasingly important for rational design and development of vaccines against major diseases in which natural immune responses fail and little empirical guidance for vaccine development exists. Support for increased collaborations between basic immunologists and clinical vaccine researchers is critically important.


  • Facilitate the rational design and development of vaccines by supporting research aimed at understanding fundamental principles of protective immunity in humans.

Infectious Etiologies of Chronic Immune-Mediated Diseases

Infectious agents are major contributing or causative factors in the development of many chronic diseases. Mounting evidence indicates that they may be the underlying causes of cancer, coronary artery disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, autism, and chronic lung diseases.

Identification of infectious agents as causative factors in chronic disease will revolutionize clinical diagnosis and treatment of these debilitating conditions and provide unique opportunities to prevent many diseases through new vaccine development.


  • Develop cross-disciplinary programs with the capacity to identify infectious agents involved in the initiation and maintenance of human chronic diseases.
  • Define mechanisms by which infectious agents and/or the immune response cause disease pathogenesis.

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Last Updated November 09, 2000