A research team comprised of researchers from the University of Georgia and Emory University have received a five-year, $1.7 million grant to work toward developing a vaccine for norovirus.

The grant, provided by the National Institutes of Health, could provide a “tremendous” benefit to public health, said Ben Lopman, a researcher at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, in a UGA press release.

If developed, the vaccine could drastically reduce the virus’s prevalence.

Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S. and often affects vulnerable groups like children and the elderly. Three out of every four norovirus outbreaks occur in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, and is the leading cause of hospitalizing children with vomiting and diarrhea in the U.S.

Norovirus is similar to the flu in that it evolves rapidly, making it difficult to develop a vaccine.

“We don’t yet have the richness of data or depth of understanding about norovirus biology or epidemiology,” Lopman said.

Additionally, researchers want to determine if a vaccine could reduce shedding, or transmission from person to person. Andreas Handel, an epidemiologist at UGA’s College of Public Health, said this would occur when comparing shedding data between patients who received the vaccine and those who didn't.

“When a person sheds less, there’s less potential for transmission,” Handel said in the press release.

Multiscale mathematical modeling studies will be used to study the virus at different levels — human host, viral and epidemiological — to determine how many strains a vaccine would need to address and for how long it would remain effective.

“In the end, we want a norovirus vaccine that will be most valuable for public health,” Lopman said in the press release.