Dr. Janko Nikolich
University of Arizona - Aegis Consortium
Health Science Innovation Building
Dr. Janko Nikolich is an internationally recognized leader in immunology and gerontology. He received his M.D., MSc and Ph.D. in Immunology from Belgrade University School of Medicine. From 1987 to 1990, he worked as a Research Associate at the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in the laboratory of Dr. Michael J. Bevan, FRS, NAS, HHMI. In 1990, he joined the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York as the Head of both the Flow Cytometry Core Facility and the Laboratory of T Cell Development, first as Assistant and then Associate Member. He served as Assistant Professor (1990-1996) and Associate Professor (1996-2001) at both the Cornell University Graduate School of Medical Sciences and the Division of Molecular Medicine in Cornell University School of Medicine. He was a recipient of the Pew Biomedical Scholar Award and the Louise and Allston Boyer Young Scientist Award. In 2001, Dr. Nikolich assumed the position of Senior Scientist at the Oregon Health & Science University at the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, along with joint appointments as a tenured Professor in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology and a Senior Scientist at the Oregon National Primate Research Center. In 2008, Dr. Nikolich moved to the University of Arizona to lead the Department of Immunobiology and the Arizona Center on Aging. His long-term interests include basic mechanisms of T-cell function, immunity to acute viral infection in older adults, persistent virus interactions with mammalian hosts over the lifespan, vaccines and biomarkers of declining immunity in the elderly, immune rejuvenation, immune monitoring in chronic conditions of aging and the impact of inflammation and nutritional intervention in aging, immunity and metabolic disorders. He has been working with viral models across RNA and DNA viruses, including select agents, for over 30 years. He has published over 200 scientific papers and reviews describing his work and has held or holds grant awards from the National Institutes of Health totaling >$100M so far. In 2021, Dr. Nikolich was named Arizona Biomedical Researcher of the Year as well as the Arizona Geriatric Society Gerontologist of the Year for his unrelenting focus on COVID-19.
Please describe the genesis of The University of Arizona’s Aegis Consortium.
The Aegis Consortium is a named Center of the University of Arizona, within the University of Arizona Health Sciences, which unites a diverse coalition of experts from all corners of the human experience to develop pandemic solutions. We operate across disciplines, industries and borders, pooling resources to develop flexible solutions that can be implemented in communities worldwide. Our vision is a world prepared for, yet free of, pandemics. Dr Nikolich founded and serves as the Director of Aegis.
During the pandemic, we developed a range of solutions which allowed us to become the first university in the country to safely re-open to students, faculty and staff. These included development and rapid deployment of antibody testing to evaluate COVID-19 incidence/prevalence with over 100,000 tests administered; implementation of the first university-based wastewater surveillance program to early-detect SARS-CoV-2; developed community analytics and dashboards of disease transmission to help inform mitigation measures; enhanced awareness and education among communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19 to reduce disparities, misinformation and mistrust via a National Institute’s of Health (NIH) CEAL grant as well as education on Long COVID in conjunction with other Arizona universities also funded by NIH. We are one of 15 adult RECOVER Long COVID NIH grants to study the mechanisms and effects of Long COVID.
What are several key priorities for Aegis Consortium now?
We are advocating with others to develop a national care network exclusively for the treatment of Long COVID patients. Our intent is to provide multi-disciplinary care to nearly 200,000 new unique patients annually and help determine evidence-based standards of care that we can then disseminate to healthcare providers worldwide. The Long COVID population continues to grow and is indeed “a pandemic after the pandemic”. We also seek to promote more flexible, nimble and in-depth intervention trials as means to understand both the disease and the treatments of long COVID.
Strengthening our community health response to future pandemics and extreme public health emergencies is another key priority. Our intent is to create new digital health ecosystems which enjoin front-line providers, businesses and consumers with 24/7 early warning systems of new disease outbreaks and to use that information quickly to help minimize morbidity and mortality within communities.
We have also embarked on a number of key strategic partnerships to include statewide partnerships with the Arizona State University, North Arizona University and Translational Genomics Institute, state and county Departments of Health and other Arizona partners. Nationally and internationally, our key partners are GVN; AMRITA University in India; the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS); and The University of Western Australia with many others in development. Our aim is to collectively advance our understanding of pandemic preparedness and bring forth much needed solutions to effectively manage during extreme public health emergencies.
Finally, we’re partnering with one of the nation’s foremost laboratories, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Our joint aim is to uncover many of the clinical mysteries of the pandemic thru the use of big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). There is much to assess and analyze and we’re equally excited how we can bring about much needed focus in this area so that we are all better prepared. As we’ve often said, the next pandemic is right around the corner.
Overview of Aegis Consortium - University of Arizona
Pandemics are a collective threat that require collective action. Our true north, developing strategies for a pandemic-free future, are embodied in 3 distinct pillars, as follows:
Pillar 1: Pandemics Control, Prediction & Preparedness
- Studying the multitude of human immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 and the virus evolution in response to these immune pressures
- Providing new therapies and methods to protect the vulnerable
- Building a robust virus evolution and virus escape prediction system
- Addressing possible SARS-CoV-2 escape and reinfection potential, as well as detect new pandemic threats
- Developing early warning systems and rapid response systems to manage/mitigate early disease/virus outbreaks
Pillar 2: Post-Acute effects of Pandemics on Individuals and Societies
- Addressing multi-organ effects of the virus and of aberrant immune responses at the individual level of vulnerable, particularly aging, hosts
- Addressing the intermediate and delayed impact of virus-related disruption of social, educational and economic activities
- Addressing the implications of Long Covid on diverse, disadvantaged and at-risk populations including developing evidence-based standards of care
Pillar 3: Resilience of Built & Natural Environments in Pandemic Control
- Investigating how the virus and its human hosts change depending on different indoor and outdoor environments
- Investigating how this plays into vulnerability and resilience and how we can alter the built environment to accommodate resilience against pandemics
Extensive History of Research and Collaboration
The Aegis Consortium is located within University of Arizona Health Sciences, an internationally recognized leader in biomedical research which comprises the Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona, the greater Southwest and around the world to provide next-generation education, research and outreach. A major economic engine, Health Sciences employs nearly 5,000 people, has approximately 4,000 students and 900 faculty members, and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. In 2021, University of Arizona’s research and development expenditures ranked in the top 4% of all U.S. universities.
Specialized Transdisciplinary Research Teams
Since the arrival of the pandemic, well over 200 Aegis-affiliated superstars and their investigative teams have led and/or participated in nearly $100M in Covid-19 related research efforts. As Aegis continues to un-lock the mysteries of COVID-19 and provides a range of solutions for mitigation, we’ll continue to expand our investigative reach with many research teams, both domestically and internationally. Together, we can and will become a more formidable force than challenges of future pandemics.
Aegis employs a transdisciplinary approach to understanding viral impacts as pandemics create a wide range of clinical, societal and infrastructure challenges. Clinically, Aegis has deep strength from the Departments of Immunobiology, Medicine, Community and Family Medicine and Emergency Medicine, as well as the college of Public Health. Key immunology and virology lead investigators, departmental teams and overall resources can be viewed at www.immunobiology.arizona.edu. Transdisciplinary Aegis collaborators across Health Services Research can be viewed at www.uahs.arizona.edu and www.research.uahs.arizona.edu.