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Excellence in Global Health and Vaccinology

Christopher PloweOver the past half century, great progress has been made against many deadly global health problems. Smallpox has been eradicated; rates of polio have dropped precipitously in recent decades; and rates of malaria have dropped by nearly half since 2000.

But many global health challenges remain. Infectious diseases remain a major threat. Every year, around 2.5 million people are infected with HIV, including more than 300,000 children; despite recent gains, malaria still kills more than half a million people annually, most of them under the age of 10. Dangerous infectious diseases, including Zika and Ebola, have recently emerged or have spread to new parts of the world.

In response to this deep need, in 2015 the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM) established the Institute for Global Health (IGH), bringing together an impressive team of researchers with decades of experience in a variety of areas, including vaccines, malaria, and emerging diseases.

Kathleen NeuzilIGH is led by Christopher Plowe, MD, MPH, the Frank M. Calia MD Professor of Medicine, and Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and of Epidemiology and Public Health. The institute focuses on vaccine development and malaria research, and consists of the Center for Vaccine Development (CVD) and the Division of Malaria Research (DMR), the latter of which is also led by Dr. Plowe. The CVD is led by Kathleen Neuzil, MD, MPH, who is also Deputy Director of IGH.

For more than 40 years, the CVD has conducted research on vaccines for a variety of diseases, including cholera, typhoid fever, malaria, and other infectious illnesses. The center focuses on maternal and child mortality, especially on preventing diarrhea and pneumonia, which are leading causes of death in children under five around the world. CVD has worked in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and has research and treatment facilities in Mali and Chile. One of the center’s key principles is to inform policy and field interventions, and ultimately to save lives.

With the ultimate aim of global malaria eradication, DMR focuses on the prevention and treatment of malaria, which infects 200 million people a year. It develops and deploys innovative tools for malaria treatment, prevention and surveillance. Working in its Baltimore laboratories and at field sites in Mali, Burkina Faso, Malawi and Myanmar, DMR designs and leads clinical trials of drugs and vaccines, and applies molecular and genomics approaches to track drug resistance and malaria transmission.

Dr. Plowe, who has been studying malaria for more than 30 years, joined the CVD faculty in 1995, building a multidisciplinary malaria research group that works around the world. Dr. Neuzil, an expert in the study of vaccines, was previously a professor at the University of Washington, and directed vaccine access and delivery at PATH, an international nonprofit global health organization based in Seattle.

Myron LevineIGH faculty includes a range of well-known scientists, among them Myron Levine, MD, DTPH, the Simon and Bessie Grollman Distinguished Professor at UM SOM. Dr. Levine, who founded CVD four decades ago and developed the first and only cholera vaccine licensed in the USA. He continues to work in vaccine development, and has played an important role in research into a promising Ebola vaccine.

Nyunt, MyaingIGH has already had several successes. Last year, Dr. Plowe and his colleague and wife, Myaing Myaing Nyunt, MD, MPH, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Director of IGH’s efforts in Myanmar, helped engineer an unprecedented meeting to battle malaria in Myanmar. A diverse array of groups in the country, many with long histories as adversaries, met in Washington D.C. to discuss strategies to eradicate malaria in Myanmar. The groups agreed to cooperate on a long-term plan to eliminate malaria, which is a major problem in many parts of the country.

IGH also focuses on developing the skills and expertise of those abroad who are on the front lines in the war against infectious and other global diseases. This spread of technical and scientific knowledge will allow less developed countries to create sustainable improvements in public health, which last beyond the end of studies by researchers at western institutions.

Laufer, MiriamKotloffIGH has other projects as well. Miriam K. Laufer, MD, who is IGH’s Associate Director for Global Health and directs the institute’s work in Malawi, is examining potential links between HIV and malaria and leading clinical trials to prevent and treat both diseases. At CVD, Karen Kotloff, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, is involved in several projects to prevent diarrheal disease in developing countries.

These projects and others keep Dr. Plowe very busy. But he doesn’t mind. “What a joy and a privilege it is to be able to do this for a living,” he says. “It’s incredibly rewarding to be part of the global health community on campus that does such important work here in Maryland and around the world.”