The Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology, and Inflammation (VI4) has been established to bring together leading researchers in the areas of infection biology, immunobiology and inflammation in a concerted effort to understand key processes underlying disease. Our ultimate goal is to translate these discoveries into new therapies and discover and engineer strategies to harness the benefits of the human microbiome to improve human health.
The twentieth century witnessed extraordinary advances in health and medicine that had profound effects on both quality and length of life. Among these was the drastic reduction in the burden of viral and infectious diseases resulting from the discovery of antibiotics and the development of vaccines. In parallel, we have gained invaluable insights into the processes controlled or affected by the immune system. For example, the pathological consequences of obesity are now understood to be mediated by inflammatory immune processes and immune-based therapies are now playing a vital role in the fight against intractable cancers.
However, as we harness the immune system for good, it is increasingly evident that, while the immune response and its attendant inflammation can limit injury, protect against infection, and promote healing, it can also cause or contribute to a range of diseases, such as arthritis, allergies, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Similarly, entry into the twenty-first century has been coincident with the emergence of bacteria resistant to our most effective antibiotics, signaling the end of an era of progress in the realm of treating infectious disease. In fact, infectious disease is a unique example of a medical specialty for which treatment options are predicted to decrease in the coming years. Compounding the problem is the appearance of new infectious diseases for which no effective therapies are currently available. Spread of pathogens as a consequence of increased human global mobility and as a function of climate change is a harbinger of the faster spread of epidemics that necessitate improved diagnostics and the discovery of effective therapies. Yet, as we once again find ourselves engaged in the fight to control microbial pathogens, we are also beginning to understand that the bacteria that live in and on the human body, the microbiome, make critical contributions to health by affecting metabolism, neurological function, and resistance to infection. Immune therapies are also revolutionizing cancer treatment as the immune system is unleashed to eliminate cancer cells and tumors. Unfortunately, these approaches are effective in only a portion of patients. It is now important to identify mechanisms of cancer-immune system interactions to improve therapy.
Clearly, the future of biomedical science requires a renaissance in microbiology and immunology to develop a more detailed understanding of the microbial world and our immune and inflammatory responses. The Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology, and Inflammation (VI4) positions Vanderbilt at the leading edge of this renaissance. With its membership of over 100 faculty, VI4 capitalizes on the strengths of Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in areas such as personalized medicine, structural biology, vaccinology, immuno-metabolism, immuno-oncology, and nutrition, while simultaneously creating infrastructure required to support research into the microbiome. Through VI4, Vanderbilt fulfills its mission to be an internationally recognized leader in research that bridges the disciplines of immunology and infection biology to improve human health.