Join Systems Biology Centers To Model Human Pathogens

Funding News Edition: October 06, 2021
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NIAID’s Systems Biology Consortium for Infectious Diseases generates and integrates large datasets into models that guide in vitro, in vivo, and clinical studies, with the goals of predicting disease severity, predicting responses to vaccines and therapeutics, and identifying candidate targets for interventions. Through the new funding opportunity announcement (FOA) Systems Biology for Infectious Diseases (U19, Clinical Trial Not Allowed), you can apply to join the Consortium by proposing research projects that integrate experimental approaches and computational modeling to test and validate hypotheses of significance to the infectious diseases field.

The systems biology approach consists of repeated cycles of experimental data generation; analysis and integration; modeling of systems-wide networks structures and dynamics; predictions of microbial and host "systems" responses to changes, perturbations, and alterations of experimental conditions and experimental validation; and building predictive models of systems-wide molecular networks structure and dynamics to identify predictive markers of infectious diseases.

Within that framework, the FOA emphasizes “reverse translational research” or “bedside to benchtop (and back)” strategies—integrating clinical metadata, systems datasets, and advanced technologies in the context of infectious diseases. Example research projects include:

  • Determining host/pathogen interaction networks and predictive models which identify biosignatures that predict risk, severity, and response to therapeutic intervention of an infectious disease
  • Studying host/pathogen interactions across the life cycle in the vertebrate host, invertebrate vector host, or reservoir and using these data to identify approaches for targeted interventions
  • Incorporating nontraditional data sources, e.g., wearables or mobility data, with novel computational, mathematical, and statistical algorithms and methods, including artificial intelligence and machine learning approaches to predict disease risk and severity

Further, your application could propose secondary analyses on existing data and validating findings with laboratory studies. Your research should also develop or improve innovative experimental methods, technologies, bioinformatics and computational tools, machine learning software, and mathematical or statistical inference methods.

The FOA also lists several nonresponsive research topics that you must avoid, such as studies proposing only pathogen sequencing. If you include a nonresponsive research topic, NIAID will not review your application.

Collaboration Is Key

Applicants should form interdisciplinary teams capable of pursuing coordinated activities that bring together experts in fields such as microbiology, immunology, infectious diseases, and “omics” technologies with those in mathematics, physics, bioinformatics, and statistical methods and modeling.

Center Components

Each Center will have the following components:

  • Two Synergistic Research Projects—must be organized around a common theme that uses a systems biology approach to build predictive models of infectious diseases and identify, quantify, model, and predict the overall architecture and dynamics of the molecular interaction networks of pathogenic organisms with their host cells during infectious disease
  • Data Management and Bioinformatics Core—provides data storage, management, and information security services to the Center and all collaborating sites
  • Technology Core—provides high-throughput technologies for systems biology analysis of samples
  • Modeling Core—develops predictive models of infectious diseases, and maintains computational and statistical tools, machine learning algorithms, and statistical methods necessary for building these models
  • Administrative Core—responsible for managing, coordinating, and supervising the entire range of Center activities

Applications must explicate milestones and timelines for both research projects, administrative core activities, and the overall goals of the Center. Principal investigators will participate in annual programmatic meetings and coordinate with a scientific advisory group.

Application Details

This FOA accepts both new and renewal applications.

Your budget request is limited to $1.5 million in annual direct costs and must reflect the actual needs of your proposed research. The maximum project period is five years.

The deadline to apply is January 14, 2022, and letters of intent are due one month earlier, on December 14, 2021.

If you decide to apply, take a moment to review our Questions and Answers for RFA-AI-21-065, Systems Biology for Infectious Diseases (U19, Clinical Trial Not Allowed) for additional details and clarifications.

Direct questions about the initiative to Dr. Reed Shabman at or 301-761-6433 and peer review to Dr. Yong Gao at or 240-669-5048.

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