TAG: "Global health"

UC Global Health Day registration opens


Event will be April 26 at UC Davis.

The 2014 UC Global Health Day is a showcase of the research, training and outreach in global health being undertaken across the University of California. This event is a unique opportunity to hear from University of California faculty, students and staff about the diversity of global health work they are doing around the world. The day will feature plenary sessions, posters and several concurrent breakout sessions covering a broad range of global health topics. Learn more about this event.

Online registration is now open. Please click here to register. Space is limited so register today.

The registration fee is $50 for general admission, $25 for students (Registration is non-refundable; one ticket per person, per transaction) Note: If you are a poster presenter or breakout session presenter, you will receive complimentary registration, so please do NOT register online.

Keynote speakers for the 2014 UC Global Health Day include:

  • Janet Napolitano, president, University of California
  • Jonathan M. Samet, director, USC Institute for Global Health; Distinguished Professor and Flora L. Thornton Chair, Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine
  • Andrew Hargadon, Charles J. Soderquist Chair in Entrepreneurship; professor of technology management; founding director, Center for Entrepreneurship, UC Davis Graduate School of Management
  • Jonna Mazet, executive director, One Health Institute; professor of epidemiology and disease ecology, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine

The deadline for the UC Global Health Day Video Challenge is soon approaching (March 31). This video challenge is your chance to share your passion for global health and showcase your work in the field. For details, click here.

Visit the UCGHI website for more information.

Related link:
Global health videos on UCTV

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Community-based HIV prevention can boost testing


Prevention efforts also can help reduce new infections, study shows.

Thomas Coates, UCLA

Communities in Africa and Thailand that worked together on HIV-prevention efforts saw not only a rise in HIV screening but a drop in new infections, according to a new study in the peer-reviewed journal The Lancet Global Health.

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health’s Project Accept — a trial conducted by the HIV Prevention Trials Network to test a combination of social, behavioral and structural HIV-prevention interventions — demonstrated that a series of community efforts boosted the number of people tested for HIV and resulted in a 14 percent reduction in new HIV infections, compared with control communities.

Much of the research was conducted in sub-Saharan Africa, which has particularly high rates of HIV. The researchers were interested not just in how the clinical trial participants’ behavior changed, but also in how these efforts affected the community as a whole, said Thomas Coates, Project Accept’s overall principal investigator and director of UCLA’s Center for World Health.

“The study clearly demonstrates that high rates of testing can be achieved by going into communities and that this strategy can result in increased HIV detection, which makes referral to care possible,” said Coates, who also is an associate director of the UCLA AIDS Institute. “This has major public health benefit implications — not only suggesting how to link infected individuals to care, but also encouraging testing in entire communities and therefore also reducing further HIV transmission.”

These findings were previously presented at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta.

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UCLA launches joint venture with Chinese firm to open lab in Shanghai


Clinical laboratory will provide more accurate diagnoses of cancer and other diseases.

Scott Binder, UCLA

The University of California and UCLA Department of Pathology have signed an agreement with Centre Testing International Corp., a Chinese firm, to create a company that will operate a clinical laboratory in Shanghai. The new lab will support clinical trials and enhance medical care for Chinese patients with cancer and other diseases.

The new company, CTI-Pathology/UCLA Health, is jointly owned by CTI and the University of California. The 25,000-square-foot facility — the first of its kind in China — will offer genetic and molecular diagnostics and other sophisticated tests that exceed the scope of the average lab in China, and UCLA pathologists will train Chinese lab specialists to accurately interpret the tests. The lab is expected to open in September.

The partnership is the first between a Chinese company and a U.S. academic medical center to create a specialized laboratory in China. The agreement was signed today at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in a ceremony that was videocast to China.

“This joint venture is founded on UCLA’s desire to build strong global relationships that, through education, research and service, improve the health of people and communities throughout the world,” said Dr. Tom Rosenthal, chief medical officer for UCLA Health System and co-director of UCLA’s Center for World Health. “UCLA has a genuine interest in elevating the level of medicine around the world. This is one way we can really make a difference in the quality of the Chinese people’s health care and lives.”

UCLA will oversee management of the laboratory to ensure that its operations meet international standards for quality, and CTI will provide capital funding and marketing expertise. The University of California Regents approved the joint venture on Jan. 22.

“We are extremely pleased that the UCLA Health System, UCLA Department of Pathology and the UC Regents agreed to partner with CTI to establish and manage our joint venture laboratory in Shanghai,” said Sangem Hsu, president of CTI. “Our collaboration will offer the people of China oncology, pathology and laboratory medicine services they can trust. Many of these services are not largely available in China and are needed by physicians and health care providers to accurately diagnose and treat their patients.”

The Shanghai laboratory will be electronically and digitally linked with UCLA — enabling physicians and patients to consult with UCLA pathologists — and with hospitals, clinics and other laboratories throughout China.

“CTI will be an outstanding partner in our effort to significantly improve patient care in China,” said Dr. Scott Binder, senior vice chair of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Geffen School of Medicine, and director of pathology laboratory services for UCLA Health System, which performs more than 7 million tests and diagnose more than 90,000 tissue specimens a year.

Jianyu Rao, UCLA

Binder conceived the idea for a UCLA lab in China and made the first of several visits there in 2005. Dr. Jianyu Rao, a UCLA colleague who speaks Mandarin, helped move the plan forward.

“In the past, Chinese medicine focused more on treatment than diagnosis,” said Rao, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Geffen School of Medicine and director of cytopathology at UCLA Health System. “Due to the rise of a more-informed middle class, the Chinese people are recognizing the importance of accurate diagnoses for their conditions.”

The partnership also has led to teaching exchanges between UCLA and China. UCLA has already hosted Chinese pathologists and technologists for training on specialized diagnostics for skin, blood and brain tissue and other areas. In turn, UCLA pathologists will travel to China to learn about diseases that are common there but rare in the U.S.

“Because pathology has a history of being undervalued in China, the country has a shortage of pathologists trained to diagnose and interpret complex test results in specialized fields of medicine,” Binder said. “Our partnership gives CTI and UCLA the opportunity to save lives by changing that.”

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Saving diabetics from blindness in Libya


UC Berkeley grad student, professor, alum join forces in international public service project.

UC Berkeley optometry student Fatima Elkabti and professor Jorge Cuadros discuss a magnified digital image of a healthy retina.

A UC Berkeley graduate student in optometry, one of her professors and a Berkeley alumnus have joined forces to build a long-distance diagnostic project that has the potential to keep a large number of people in crisis-torn Libya from going blind.

The public service project involves training Libyan doctors to take detailed digital photographs inside patients’ eyes, of their retinas, as part of routine health care and put the images online for remote diagnosis of damage caused by diabetes before it’s too late. Too often, diabetes-related retinopathy isn’t caught until it causes symptoms, when treatment can no longer save vision.

The first 11 Libyan doctors underwent training for three days in February in Istanbul, in a seminar organized by the Avicenna Group and taught by Berkeley optometry professor Jorge Cuadros. Turkey was chosen as the training site for security reasons and because it is easily accessible from Libya.

If all goes according to plan, many more doctors will be trained over the next year, both in Libya and out — all because of a project that developed rapidly from a seed planted in a Diabetic Health Clinic class in Berkeley’s School of Optometry.

In the class, Cuadros taught students how to analyze photos of diabetic retinopathy as part of EyePACS, the California-based online initiative he co-founded to train people working in diabetes care to screen patients’ vision for remote diagnosis by certified eye doctors.

In his class was third-year optometry student Fatima Elkabti, who knows firsthand the toll that diabetes is taking in Libya, where the disease is rampant but greatly underdiagnosed. Elkabti’s father, a Libyan, has diabetes, as do about half of her many aunts and uncles.

“I walked out of the class and asked Dr. Cuadros, ‘Can we do this in Libya?’ “ Elkabti relates. Do some research, the professor told her.

Elkabti got to work and within an hour found Ethan Chorin, who earned his Ph.D. at Berkeley in 2000, served in the U.S. diplomatic corps in Libya from 2004 to 2006 and has published a book about the recent Libyan revolution. He founded the not-for-profit Avicenna Group in 2011 with a Libyan-American colleague to catalyze health-related partnerships between Libyan organizations and U.S. universities. Traveling back and forth between Benghazi and Berkeley, he looked for ways to involve Berkeley in Libya’s reconstruction efforts.

“I shot Ethan an email, and within hours we were talking about how to make this happen,” Elkabti says. The Berkeley-Libya retinopathy project was off and running.

Diabetes-related retinopathy is one of the leading causes of blindness in Libya — as well as in the United States and in much of the world. EyePACS has brought retinal screenings to poor and medically underserved areas from California’s Central Valley to Peru, and the Libyan retinopathy project extends the concept to politically unstable and dangerous regions.

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Indian company licenses Berkeley Lab invention for arsenic-free water


Technology could help save millions of lives in India and Bangladesh.

When Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) scientist Ashok Gadgil set out to solve an insidious public health problem afflicting South Asia, arsenic contamination of groundwater, he knew the hard part would not just be inventing the technology but also ensuring a way to sustain its long-term use on a large scale.

“A lot of technologies to remove arsenic on the community- and household- scale have been donated. But if you go to these villages it’s like a technology graveyard,” said Gadgil, who heads the Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division and is also a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley. “One study found that more than 90 percent failed within six months, and then were abandoned to rust in the field.”

So Gadgil and his lab came up with ECAR, Electrochemical Arsenic Remediation, which binds arsenic using iron dissolved in water. Their innovation was twofold. They created a technology that is exceptionally effective, inexpensive and easy to maintain. And just as importantly, from the start they conceptualized a business model for implementing the technology in a way that creates incentives for its longevity.  Now Indian company Luminous Water Technologies has licensed ECAR and plans to bring it to arsenic-affected villages throughout India and Bangladesh.

“Technology alone is not enough. It has to fit within a sustainable system based on partnerships with local entities,” said Susan Amrose, who has worked on ECAR since 2008 as the lead project scientist in Gadgil’s lab. “Other technologies have failed because there is no system of incentives or money or knowledge to keep them running. The key difference with ECAR is that it was designed to fit within a local system aimed at achieving successful social placement — so a flow of funds pays for ongoing operation, maintenance and social marketing, without turning it into privatized water.”

Arsenic-contaminated groundwater can be found all over the world, including in the United States, but the problem is particularly acute in South Asia, where tens of millions of people in India and Bangladesh get their drinking water from tube wells highly contaminated with arsenic, almost all of it occurring naturally. Arsenic poisoning, or arsenicosis, can cause painful lesions, diabetes, cancer and blood vessel diseases that often lead to gangrene, amputation and premature death.

Amrose has seen the devastation first-hand in her travels to affected villages. “Over time you’ll see people get worse and worse,” she said. “There was one man who in 2009 had lost his right pinkie finger by amputation due to arsenic. In 2011 he lost his right hand, and in 2013 lost his entire arm. Earlier this year he committed suicide. In some areas, you’ll see a lot of people with black spots on their palms, an external sign of arsenicosis. And a lot of things you won’t see. People will be linked with arsenic and ostracized, or young people unable to marry because their family lives in an area that has arsenic.”

One of the aims of Gadgil’s lab is to reduce the time lag between invention and commercialization from 18 years, the current norm, to 10 years. “We’re actually quite on target with ECAR,” Amrose said.

They started work on the concept in 2005. They’re now preparing a 10,000 liter-per-day trial over 15 months. “As we get to larger-scale field trials we’re intent on conducting them with our field partners,” Amrose said. “By working on a common goal, we get to effectively transfer the technology know-how, while they guide us towards what needs to be done to effectively scale up.”

Luminous Water Technologies was founded by an Indian serial entrepreneur, Rakesh Malhotra, with the aim of providing clean drinking water and commercializing new technologies in the drinking water market. Luminous’ current focus is on reverse osmosis systems, and they were looking to diversify in other water technologies when they identified ECAR for licensing.

“Arsenic poisoning is an endemic problem in India and Bangladesh and is seen as a silent killer,” said Luminous Managing Director RS Rajan. “It is Dr. Gadgil’s conviction and perseverance which has been a key motivating factor in Luminous opting for this technology. Luminous Water, with its reach across India and longstanding business record, will work towards commercializing this technology along with Berkeley Lab and create a sustainable module to provide solutions to impacted communities.”

ECAR works by using electricity to quickly dissolve iron in water. This forms a type of rust that readily binds to arsenic; the rust can then be separated from the water through filtration or settling. For the remaining waste Gadgil’s lab is now working on partnerships with cement and concrete companies to do research on embedding the sludge in concrete.

“We find in early tests that it’s very well stabilized, and the arsenic is not getting back into the environment,” Amrose said. “We expect and hope this form of sludge management will be viable and pass environmental approvals for market scale-up. Until then Luminous will dispose of the waste according to prevailing pollution control guidelines.”

ECAR is envisaged to operate as a village-owned micro utility in the villages where it is installed. Luminous would operate and maintain the utility and sell the water, with concurrent support for social marketing and education.

Last year ECAR was awarded a UC Proof of Concept Program Commercialization Gap Grant to see if it could be used to remediate arsenic-contaminated groundwater in California. Rural communities in California are often too poor to afford commonly available arsenic remediation techniques, and most techniques are only cost effective on larger scales, such as the city water supply system. As a result, many California residents drink water with dangerous levels of arsenic every day. The burden falls disproportionately on minorities and residents of lower socioeconomic status, particularly migrant farming communities and Native American communities.

ECAR has yet to be proven in California groundwater, which is known to contain a different composition of interfering ions from that in South Asia. This grant funds a proof-of-concept demonstration of ECAR in California to reduce entry risk for potential licensees.

The ECAR effort was initiated at Berkeley Lab with internal seed funds (from Laboratory Directed Research and Development funding) in 2005. It is being further developed in part with funding from the Development Impact Lab at UC Berkeley. ECAR technology is available for licensing in the United States. For more on Gadgil’s arsenic removal research visit arsenic.lbl.gov.

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Is West Nile virus coming to your town?


UCLA releases first risk-assessment predictions.

Ryan Harrigan, UCLA

Since its introduction to the U.S. in 1999, West Nile virus has spread rapidly across North America, threatening wildlife populations and posing a serious health risk to humans. In 2012, there were more than 5,500 human cases of the disease reported in 48 states, the highest number in more than a decade.

Now, a team of researchers from the Center for Tropical Research at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability has created a model to help predict where the disease may occur under future climate change. Their findings were published Feb. 27 in the journal Global Change Biology.

“To our knowledge, this is the first continental risk assessment of West Nile virus based on nearly a decade of data,” said Ryan Harrigan, a postdoctoral researcher at the center who, along with center director Thomas Smith, collaborated with researchers from Germany’s University of Tubingen and Britain’s University of Leeds. “What we are presenting is the first North American predictions of the disease under present and future climate conditions.”

Using the relationship between current climate conditions and cases of West Nile virus, the researchers were able to generate models to predict where this disease may occur under climate conditions in the future. Their results suggest that higher temperatures and lower precipitation lead to a higher probability of West Nile virus cases in humans, birds and mosquitoes and that as a result climate change, the disease will spread northward into previously unaffected areas.

Their analyses also identify current and future hotspots of West Nile virus transmission and present an important new approach for monitoring the risk of this and other vector-borne diseases.

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UC Davis launches Colombia Project of Hope


Collaboration with Colombian universities to examine high rate of fragile X-related disorders.

Researchers at the internationally respected UC Davis MIND Institute are collaborating with scientists at two Colombian universities to investigate the very high rate of fragile X-related disorders in one region in the South American country.

Named the Colombia Project of Hope, the initiative aims to advance fragile X research and benefit individuals with fragile X-related disorders in the United States and around the world by focusing on a recently identified fragile X “hotspot” in Colombia.

In November 2013, fragile X researchers led by internationally known fragile X investigator and MIND Institute Medical Director Randi Hagerman, visited the Valle del Cauca District and the small town of Ricaurte, which for years has been known to have a very high prevalence of individuals with intellectual disability, formerly termed mental retardation.

“Our goal is to advance fragile X research worldwide by turning Ricaurte from a village of despair to a village of hope with new treatments for fragile X syndrome and related disorders, Hagerman said.

Hagerman and her team screened many of Ricaurte’s residents, using a diagnostic test developed by Flora Tassone, UC Davis professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine. Conducted in partnership with the Colombian scientists, the testing found a very high incidence of fragile-X related mutations among the population — the reason for the region’s high levels of intellectual disability and the solution to a decades-old medical mystery.

The term “fragile X” is used to describe the altered appearance of the X chromosome among sufferers from the constellation of conditions associated with defects in a gene called FMR1.  The defect causes disorders such as  fragile X syndrome, the leading cause of intellectual disability and the leading known single-gene cause of autism, and a Parkinson’s disease-like condition in adults called fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome, or FXTAS. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 in 4,000 males and 1 in 6,000 to 8,000 females in the United States have fragile X syndrome.

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Students learn by doing good


Global children’s oral health, nutrition program helps stem tooth decay around the world.

Global Children's Oral Health and Nutrition ProgramEvery year since 2010, Dr. Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, Dr. Susan Ivey and a group of students have taken toothbrushes, toothpaste, and a big pink and white model of teeth to Latin America and, since 2011, Asia. There, they teach communities about nutrition and oral health. The Global Children’s Oral Health and Nutrition Program was created to stem the epidemic rise in tooth decay in developing countries around the world. Sokal-Gutierrez is an associate clinical professor and Ivey an associate adjunct professor in the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Both teach in the UC Berkeley-UC San Francisco Joint Medical Program.

The program began in El Salvador in 2003, where Sokal-Gutierrez noticed a trend in tooth decay of children up to 6 years old. Since then, the program has expanded to Nepal, India, Vietnam, Ecuador and Peru. Sokal-Gutierrez and Ivey estimate that the program has served about 10,000 children and their parents since its inception. But the Children’s Oral Health and Nutrition Program has also made another big impact, this time on the UC Berkeley campus: bringing transformative experiences to students launching their careers in public health, medicine and dentistry.

“How can we do our best to improve the health of children, and how can we do our best to mentor the students and give them this good hands-on opportunity?” asks Sokal-Gutierrez. “I’m always trying to pay attention to both of those things.”

In the decade since it began, nearly 200 volunteers have participated in the program. Most are UC Berkeley undergraduates who plan to pursue careers in public health, medicine, and dentistry. They also include graduate students and professionals from the fields of medicine, dentistry and public health. Additionally, Sokal-Gutierrez and Ivey often seek out students whose families emigrated from countries where this program might be needed. It offers a chance for students to connect abstract concepts to real-world scenarios, take on positions of leadership, and be mentors in medicine and public health.

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UCSF to host 2014 TEDMED


Campus selected as first of seven global venues for popular speaker series.

UC San Francisco Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann delivered a TEDMED talk last year in Washington, D.C. The speaker series is expanding this year to a second location and has chosen UCSF to host. (Photo courtesy of TEDMED)

UC San Francisco Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann delivered a TEDMED talk last year in Washington, D.C. The speaker series is expanding this year to a second location and has chosen UCSF to host. (Photo courtesy of TEDMED)

In a nod to UC San Francisco’s role as a health sciences innovator, TEDMED has chosen UCSF as its “natural” first global partner, with plans for an initial event to take place simultaneously in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., on Sept. 10-12.

This will be the first step in an international rollout of the annual gathering, with the goal of holding simultaneous events across seven locations in the future, including China, Japan, the Middle East and Western Europe. Each of those permanent sites, which TEDMED will begin announcing next year, will be hosted by a city and leading medical research institution, and will be digitally linked to the other sites.

“There has never been a greater need for an inclusive worldwide gathering that showcases, supports and sparks innovative thinking and imaginative new approaches to health and medicine,” TEDMED curator Jay Walker said in announcing the expansion and UCSF’s role as a permanent institutional partner for the event. “Soon the whole world will come together for one week every year at TEDMED, where all will be invited to experience and share the best of what humankind can achieve in service of health and medicine.”

The partnership, in which Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, M.D., M.P.H., played a key role, will bring to San Francisco a world-renowned event that convenes 1,500 leaders and innovators each year from all sectors of society to explore the promise of technology and innovation in health and medicine.

“We at UCSF are excited to partner with TEDMED in its launch of a worldwide initiative that will inspire new thinking and collaborations to impact health and medicine worldwide,” said Desmond-Hellmann, whose stewardship of the OME Precision Medicine Summit in May 2013 helped cement UCSF’s role as a convener of the most innovative thought leaders in modern health and science.

As such, it was a natural conference for UCSF and fitting location for TEDMED. In today’s (Jan. 15) announcement, TEDMED cited UCSF’s role as a premier research institution and academic medical center, as well as its location in San Francisco – a city known for innovation and as the gateway to Silicon Valley – as its reasons for selecting the campus to launch the global initiative.

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UC Global Health Day submission deadline extended


Jan. 10 new deadline for poster abstracts, breakout session proposals.

2014 UC Global Health DayThe UC Global Health Institute (UCGHI) invites submissions of abstracts for posters and proposals for breakout sessions for the 2014 UC Global Health Day, which will be April 26 at UC Davis. This annual conference is a showcase of the research, training and outreach in global health being undertaken across the University of California.

The submission deadline has been extended to Jan. 10.

UC students, fellows, faculty, staff and visiting scholars come together at this annual conference to share their current work in global health in plenary sessions, posters and concurrent breakout sessions covering a broad range of global health topics.

Proposals for breakout sessions that are interdisciplinary and cross-campus collaborations are strongly encouraged. All presenters will receive complimentary registration to UC Global Health Day. Students selected to present at UC Global Health Day will receive funding to offset travel and poster expenses.

Read the calls for posters and breakout session proposals for more information or visit the UC Global Health Day site.

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UCSF receives $15M for malaria elimination campaign


Gates Foundation funding effort to target nearly three dozen countries.

Sir Richard Feachem, UC San Francisco

Sir Richard Feachem, UC San Francisco

UC San Francisco’s Global Health Group has received a $15 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a pioneering effort to help nearly three dozen countries eliminate malaria within their borders.

Spread throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, the countries represent the boundary between regions that have already eliminated the disease and areas that are still struggling to control it.

With effective interventions, adequate financing and political commitment, these countries could interrupt malaria transmission and eliminate the disease within five to 10 years, according to Sir Richard Feachem, KBE, FREng, D.Sc. (Med), Ph.D., who directs the UCSF Global Health Group, which is part of UCSF Global Health Sciences. This would enable the global malaria community to focus its resources on a core group of tropical countries where it will take longer to eliminate the disease.

“Ninety-three countries have eliminated malaria since 1900, and we have recently seen unprecedented momentum in the 100 countries with remaining transmission,” Feachem said. “We and our partners across the globe will do everything possible to continue this remarkable progress towards global eradication. Our priority is to ensure that the 34 eliminating countries have the resources, policies, and tools to free themselves from malaria.”

In 2007, Bill and Melinda Gates issued a call to arms to eradicate malaria from the world, a goal that had been controversial since the perceived failure of the last effort, launched in the 1950s by the World Health Organization.

That campaign drove down malaria infections and deaths precipitously. But in countries where the intrinsic potential for infection remained high — because of mosquito-friendly conditions, poor health care and inadequate resources — infections and deaths went back up as soon as public health authorities let up on their elimination efforts.

Under Feachem, a former head of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the UCSF Global Health Group has been at the forefront of the recent efforts to accelerate malaria elimination. The Malaria Elimination Initiative of the Global Health Group was launched in 2007, just prior to the Gates’ call to arms.

The new project includes political, financial, scientific and operational research components. These include urging world leaders to embrace malaria elimination as a priority and back that with funding for anti-malaria campaigns; developing new tools to detect infections and respond to them effectively; and discovering better ways of tracking the disease, so experts will know where the remaining problem areas are and when it has truly been eliminated.

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Research team enlists ‘citizen-sensors’ to improve world health


UC San Diego researchers and students seek crowdfunding support for project.

Researchers are going to deploy sensing devices in the field connected to mobile apps that allow them to track the health of individuals and the environment.

Researchers are going to deploy sensing devices in the field connected to mobile apps that allow them to track the health of individuals and the environment.

Enterprising researchers and students at UC San Diego are looking for funding to complete a “citizen-sensor” project that, they hope, will revolutionize global health and environmental monitoring – especially in remote and undeveloped areas of the planet.

They also hope to attract the faith and funding of people around the world through the open, global crowdfunding resource Indiegogo, the first partnership between UC San Diego and a funding platform.

The Indiegogo campaign, they stress, is more a call for widespread citizen participation in health monitoring than a simple appeal for funds.

“What if you could hold the power of modern medical equipment in the palm of your hand?” they ask. The device the students call “a cool gizmo” can also monitor your environment’s health by sampling the air, soil, and water for pollutants, then analyze and report the findings.

For non-Star Trek fans, the gizmo is much like the “tricorder” of the popular sci-fi series — a nifty handheld device used for scanning, analyzing, and recording data. Less evocatively named, but nearly as high-tech, the UC San Diego device is called the Open Health Stack.

It would beneficially alter the landscape of the medical economy, researchers say, first by changing how people sense and perceive their own health, and then by collecting enough data to enable changes to environmental practices or policies.

Making those ambitious goals a reality is the role of their Distributed Health Lab, a collaboration between UC San Diego’s School of Medicine and the Qualcomm Institute, the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2).

Drs. Albert Yu-Min Lin and Eliah Aronoff-Spencer, co-directors of the lab, and co-principal investigators for the project, say that the multidisciplinary nature of the project will be key to its success. “We have a large number of truly talented collaborators in the School of Medicine as well in the School of Engineering,” says Lin. “Helping their different skills to coalesce, along with the amazing energy and imagination of our students, will be instrumental.”

The researchers and students – from such diverse fields as nanoengineering, medicine, machine-learning, cryptography, crowdsourced archaeology, citizen science, and human & computer ethnography – are building the Open Health Stack using cloud infrastructure, mobile apps and sensors that will collect and analyze data from individuals and the environment.

The first “layer” of the stack is SENSE, the heart of the gizmo, a health-and-environment sensor that tracks vital signs and measures, for example, heavy metals in water or cholera in streams. The pocket-size device enables users to learn more about their surroundings.

The next layer is MyOasis, a mobile app that interacts with the sensors and lets users monitor and report what the sensors discover. MyOasis visualizes data collected by SENSE, allowing users to “see” things invisible to the eye, such as heart rates.

The final layer is KEEP, a secure data-storage-and-analysis platform that detects large-scale trends, like flu outbreaks, with the help of machine-learning algorithms.

“Together,” Aronoff-Spencer says, “they provide an end-to-end solution for collecting and analyzing data at the individual, community, and global levels.”

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Match Day at UC San Diego School of Medicine

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