NIAID conducts and supports basic research to better understand viruses, bacteria, and other infectious agents that cause diseases of public health concern. This research provides the foundation for developing medical products and strategies to diagnose, treat and prevent a wide range of infectious diseases, whether those diseases emerge naturally or are deliberately introduced as an act of bioterrorism. Regardless of the source of the infectious threat, NIAID’s research approach is the same—learn as much as possible about the infectious agent and how it causes disease, and develop tools to diagnose, treat and prevent infection with that microbe.
Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent anthrax mailings of that fall, NIAID has played a key supportive role in the larger national strategy to develop medical products and strategies to counter bioterrorism and emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. Over time, NIAID’s research focus in this regard has evolved from developing vaccines for specific pathogens to focusing on the fundamental basic research needed to better understand infectious agents. The goal of this basic research is to lay the groundwork for developing broad-spectrum antibiotics and antivirals—drugs that can prevent or treat diseases caused by multiple types of bacteria or viruses—and multi-platform technologies that potentially could be used to more efficiently develop vaccines against a variety of infectious agents.
This move from the “one bug-one drug” approach toward a more flexible, broad approach using sophisticated genomic and proteomic technologies has yielded numerous scientific advances and has equipped the United States with a much more integrated, coordinated approach to addressing public health crises. This was demonstrated during the SARS epidemic, pandemic flu preparedness efforts resulting from the H5N1 avian influenza outbreak, and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.
NIAID continues to conduct and support research designed to advance scientific understanding of infectious disease and find broad-based solutions.