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About CUPIC: History

When Dr. David Speert first envisioned the Centre for Understanding and Preventing Infection in Children (CUPIC), he had one very simple goal: understand why some children but not others get sick and then develop new stategies for prevention or therapy.

"It sounds like a pretty simplistic concept," admitted Dr. Speert, "but it hasn't been tackled effectively by a consolidated group."

That's a gap CUPIC was been designed to fill. In late 2006, Dr. Speert's team was awarded a Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) Grant. The funding, which totaled $8.1 million with matching funds from the province and the BC Children's Hospital, finally made Dr. Speert's CUPIC dreams a reality. A further $3 million, granted by the Mining for Miracles group, facilitated construction and licensing of the containment level 3 laboratory.

It was a long road for Dr. Speert, who had been nurturing the CUPIC concept since he became division head of infectious and immunological diseases at UBC's Department of Pediatrics. The division was established in 1991 with Dr. Speert and Dr. David Scheifele as its founding members. The pair's working relationship, however, stretched back to the 1980s.

Nonetheless, Dr. Speert soon noticed their research collaborations beginning to taper off. As Dr. Scheifele developed an interest in immunization program evaluation, conducting research primarily in a dry lab setting, Dr. Speert was on the opposite end of UBC's Oak Street campus, conducting wet lab research on the pathogenesis, host defense and molecular epidemiology of infections. Although the two research approaches complemented each other and the researchers continued to look for ways to collaborate, logistics made it difficult.

"There was a lot of expertise on the campus in the area of infection and immunology but it was spread out over several buildings, explained Dr. Speert. "The idea sprang out of a need for better adjacency and better facilities in which to facilitate collaboration."

Dr. Speert found researchers embraced the idea, but still struggled to make CUPIC a reality. He submitted three applications to CFI before receiving funding, learning from each rejection how to better tailor his application to CFI's multidisciplinary review committee.

Finally, in November 2006, Dr. Speert was awarded CFI funding. Construction began on the centre's facilities, located in the Child and Family Research Institute's Translational Research Building. The building is designed to facilitate collaboration by housing adjacent wet and dry labs and a clinical trials unit.

A particular source of pride for CUPIC is its Class 3 containment unit. The $3 million unit, funded by a grant from the Mining for Miracles foundation, enables researchers to work with highly virulent bacteria like TB in a safe environment.