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Kawaoka, UW-Madison receive $9.5 million from Bill Gates for flu research

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given Yoshihiro Kawaoka and the University of Wisconsin at Madison an extremely impressive grant of $9.5 million to continue its research into what makes influenza, well, influenza.

This is both a significant achievement (and validation) for Professor Kawaoka as well as further evidence that Bill Gates is putting his billions to work to try and both understand and eradicate infectious diseases all over the planet.

From the story, via Cap Times:

One of the world's biggest charitable foundations has awarded close to $10 million to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for influenza virus research.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded $9.5 million in a five-year grant to UW-Madison research scientists who are studying viral mutations that could be early warning signs of potential pandemic flu viruses.

The grant was announced Thursday in a news release from the UW-Madison communications office.

"Early intervention is critical to the control of influenza virus outbreaks," said Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine virologist and principal investigator in the project.

"In order to intervene, we rely on early recognition of the pandemic potential of newly emerging influenza viruses," Kawaoka said.

The international team of scientists working on the project will look for mutations in viral proteins that allow avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, to bind to human receptors.

Avian viruses, the release said, don't generally infect humans, but a mutation happens every now and then that could allow the virus to adapt to human cells.

By identifying mutations that might allow this to happen, the project team hopes an early warning system could be developed to make it easier to predict pandemic potential of influenza viruses.

"The improved ability to predict whether a virus has pandemic potential would be an invaluable asset to the global community," Kawaoka said.

"Millions of lives might be saved if intervention methods, such as social distancing, anti-viral compound distribution and vaccine development and production could be implemented early," Kawaoka said.

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