Due to the ever present threat of an influenza pandemic, the NIAID Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance (CEIRS) program was established to support the research agenda of the HHS Pandemic Influenza Plan. The overall goal of the CEIRS network is to provide the information and public health tools needed to control the impact of epidemic influenza and the threat of pandemic influenza.

History of the CEIRS program

NIAID has had a long history of supporting research activities to provide more effective approaches to controlling influenza virus infections. These activities include studies on basic biology and replication of influenza viruses, pathogenesis, immunology, epidemiology, and clinical research to develop new and improved diagnostics, antiviral drugs, and vaccines.

The need for global surveillance was highlighted in the 1997 outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in humans in Hong Kong. NIAID awarded a contract to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in 1999 (N01-AI-95357), entitled “Pandemic Preparedness in Asia.” Through this program, virologic surveillance in aquatic birds and in live bird markets in Hong Kong was established along with activities designed to identify influenza viruses with pandemic potential. In addition, scientists conducted training courses in animal influenza surveillance, and developed reagents to detect these viruses which are available to the influenza research community. This contract also provided characterized viruses suitable for use in human vaccine development and production.

Through the 2005 solicitation, NIAID established the CEIRS network, which sought to continue and expand its animal influenza surveillance program internationally and domestically, as well as focus on several high priority areas in influenza research. Throughout the first 7 years of funding, the CEIRS network made significant contributions to influenza research through global surveillance studies that have provided insights into the natural history of influenza A viruses in wild birds, virus ecology and viral hosts; served to evaluate the effectiveness of strategies for controlling the spread of animal influenza viruses; provided improvement of sample collections and detection of influenza viruses in primary clinical specimens; and provided a better understanding of the antigenic diversity of influenza viruses and how influenza viruses emerge. The CEIRS network also made significant progress in understanding influenza pathogenesis and host response. These projects provided information regarding correlates of immunity, and raised the prospect of cross protection against different influenza virus subtypes. Other highlights included assistance in the development of the Influenza Research Database , a NIAID-funded program that provides datasets and bioinformatics tools to the global research community, as well as contributions to influenza reagents and data sharing. Equally important to the influenza research community are the training and lab capacity building activities the Centers support around the world. These activities enhance influenza research and response, and build infrastructure that can be applied to other infectious diseases as well.

Among the most important activities under the 2007-2014 contracts was response to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, in which the CEIRS network was instrumental in conducting early virus characterization studies and pre-clinical evaluation of vaccine material.

In October 2011, NIAID convened an expert panel to evaluate the scope, objectives, structure and progress of the CEIRS program, and to provide guidance on the future of the program. The panel expressed strong support for the CEIRS program and recommended that NIAID maintain and continue to support international and domestic surveillance activities as well as research in several high priority areas of influenza research (full report).

The current CEIRS program

Through the 2012 “second generation” CEIRS solicitation, NIAID identified five Centers to continue these important research activities. Key activities for CEIRS continue to include determining the prevalence of avian influenza viruses in birds and mammals in close contact with humans, understanding how influenza viruses evolve, transmit, and adapt to new hosts, and identifying immunological factors that determine disease outcome. Each of the Centers seeks to build the knowledge and infrastructure required for influenza pandemic preparedness, including:

  • Animal and/or Human Influenza Surveillance Related Research
  • Pathogenesis and Host Response Research
  • Training and Research Capacity Building Programs
  • Pilot Research Programs
  • Pandemic Public Health Research Response Plan and Risk Assessment
  • Additional components such as a Reagent Core, a Quality Control Core, and a Human/Animal Interface Serosurveillance Testing Core

For information on site locations, please see the Centers pages.