TAG: "Global health"

Making maps to predict malaria


UCSF, Google Earth Engine fighting infectious disease with cloud computing.

A sample risk map of malaria in Swaziland during the transmission season using data from 2011-13.

UC San Francisco (UCSF) is working to create an online platform that health workers around the world can use to predict where malaria is likely to be transmitted using data on Google Earth Engine.

The goal is to enable resource poor countries to wage more targeted and effective campaigns against the mosquito-borne disease, which kills 600,000 people a year, most of them children.

Faced with a multitude of public health needs, countries often make the mistake of cutting their malaria efforts just when they are close to eliminating the disease, said Hugh Sturrock, Ph.D., M.Sc., an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and a researcher in the Global Health Group, which is a part of UCSF’s Global Health Sciences.

“This can have disastrous consequences, since malaria can quickly rebound, putting years of expensive control efforts to waste,” he said. “But with these maps, health workers will know exactly where to target their scarce resources. That way, they can keep fighting the disease until it’s eliminated within their borders.”

Google Earth Engine brings together the world’s satellite imagery — trillions of scientific measurements dating back almost 40 years — and makes it available online with tools for scientists, independent researchers and nations to mine this massive warehouse of data to detect changes, map trends and quantify differences on the Earth’s surface.

With the malaria prediction platform, local health workers will be able to upload their own data on where and when malaria cases have been occurring and combine it with real-time satellite data on weather and other environmental conditions within Earth Engine to pinpoint where new cases are most likely to occur. That way, they can spray insecticide, distribute bed nets or give antimalarial drugs just to the people who still need them, instead of blanketing the entire country.

By looking at the relationship between disease occurrence and factors such as rainfall, vegetation and the presence of water in the environment, the maps will also help health workers and scientists study what drives malaria transmission. Google Earth Outreach, which helps nonprofits use Google’s mapping technology, is giving UCSF $100,000 to develop the new platform.

The new tool will be piloted in Swaziland, a country in southern Africa that has limited malaria to a few small pockets across the country through the malaria elimination program it launched in 2008 with help from the Global Health Group. Plans are to make the tool available to health workers in other countries working with the Global Health Group’s Malaria Elimination Initiative. The tool could also be adapted to predict other infectious diseases.

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Researchers assisting in search for Ebola immune response targets


San Diego Supercomputer Center, La Jolla Institute provide rapid online analysis.

The effort to develop therapeutics and a vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD) requires a complex understanding of the microorganism and its relationship within the host, especially the immune response. Adding to the challenge, EVD can be caused by any one of five known species within the genus Ebolavirus (EBOV), in the Filovirus family.

Now, researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (La Jolla Institute) and the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UC San Diego are assisting the scientific community by running high-speed online publications of analysis of EBOV-related epitope data being curated in the Immune Epitope Data Base (IEDB), and predicting epitopes using the IEDB Analysis Resource. Sebastian Maurer-Stroh of Bioinformatics Institute, A*STAR, Singapore is also assisting with analysis of the latest outbreak sequences of Ebola proteins.

“These results are the first installment of a series of analysis, whose ultimate goal is to provide a comprehensive overview of the molecular targets of the immune responses to Ebola virus,” said Julia Ponomarenko, a senior research scientist at SDSC and UCSD PI of IEDB.

The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa has now reached historic proportions surpassing 1,900 deaths from 3,500 confirmed or probable cases, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare an international public health emergency, according to recent news reports. Outbreaks of EVD have occurred in Africa in the past; however the current epidemic, caused by Zaire Ebolavirus, has been characterized by its unprecedented breadth and rapid spread.

“Clearly, research related to development of therapeutics and a vaccine against EVD is an urgent need, as well-engineered vaccines don’t exist at this time; our analysis is aimed at assisting the clinical and scientific communities in fine evaluation of laboratory results with the express intent of improving therapeutic targets or new vaccine development,” said Alessandro Sette of the Division of Vaccine Discovery, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, IEDB PI.

As of last month, the IEDB reported, in preliminary analysis, 67 T cell (CD4+ and CD8+) and 35 B cell epitopes (linear and conformational), from viruses within the EBOV and Marburgvirus genera. Within EBOV, data are provided for all known species, including Zaire, Sudan, Reston, Bundibugyo, and Tai Forest Ebolavirus. To date, 29 papers have been published that describe experimental data on the epitopes in the Filoviridae family, with 23 papers focused on the EBOV-related epitope data.

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Malaria’s clinical symptoms fade on repeat infections


UCSF-led team finds that this might be in part to loss of immune cells.

Researchers have been studying immune responses to the malaria parasite in Tororo, Uganda, where infection is now more prevalent than Kampala, the Ugandan capital.

Children who repeatedly become infected with malaria often experience no clinical symptoms with these subsequent infections, and a team led by UC San Francisco researchers has discovered that this might be due at least in part to a depletion of specific types of immune cells.

Working in Uganda, one of the most malaria-plagued nations in Africa and one in which individuals are repeatedly exposed to the malaria parasite, UCSF scientists found that a depletion of immune cells known as gamma delta T cells diminishes inflammatory responses in infected children — responses that when unabated can become debilitating or deadly.

“These inflammatory immune cells are depleted in children with repeated malaria exposure, and those that remain behave differently than the same cell types in children who have not previously been infected,” said Prasanna Jagannathan, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at UCSF, who conducted the lab analysis as part of a study team led by Margaret Feeney, M.D., a UCSF professor of experimental medicine and pediatrics. The study was published online today (Aug. 27) in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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Antimalarial drug shipped to Africa


Project begun by Berkeley Lab’s Jay Keasling to benefit millions of people.

Jay Keasling with children in a village outside Nairobi, Kenya. (Photo by Gabrielle Tenenbaum)

A project begun some 13 years ago by Jay Keasling, the associate laboratory director for biosciences at Berkeley Lab and the CEO of the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), was culminated with an announcement on Aug. 12 from the partnership of Sanofi, the multinational pharmaceutical company, and PATH, the nonprofit global health organization. Sanofi/PATH announced the shipment of 1.7 million treatments of semi-synthetic artemisinin to malaria-endemic countries in Africa. Unlike conventional artemisinin, which is derived from the bark of the sweet wormwood plant, this synthetic version of the World Health Organization’s frontline antimalarial drug is derived from yeast. The addition of a microbial-based source of artemisinin to the botanical source provides a stable new option for treating the millions of victims who are stricken with malaria each year, most of them children.

Sanofi has produced enough of the drug for 70 million treatments, and has the capacity to produce up to 150 million treatments annually. It was Keasling and his research group, using the tools of synthetic biology, who engineered the genes and metabolic pathways that enabled first E. coli and later yeast to produce artemisinic acid, the precursor to artemisin. This led to a $42.6 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for further basic research that ultimately led to yesterday’s announcement by Sanofi/PATH. Keasling, who is also the Hubbard Howe Jr. Distinguished Professor in Biochemical Engineering at UC Berkeley, among other titles, has been recognized for leading this groundbreaking research with numerous awards including the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s first Biotech Humanitarian Award.

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Auto-rickshaw helps monitor India’s deadly air pollution


Berkeley Lab’s research in India will help develop global strategies for air pollution.

What exactly is the relationship between exposure to air pollution and its effect on human health? How much cleaner would the air have to be to reduce the health burden of dirty air? Can cities be designed so as to minimize the flow of air pollution?

There is still a lot that scientists don’t know about air pollution, but the severe pollution common in much of India offers scientists an opportunity to better understand its causes and effects. The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher Josh Apte is developing some unique approaches to studying air pollution in India and hopes to apply what he learns to developing global strategies for combating it.

Although India uses the same air monitoring techniques that are standard throughout the world to measure ambient air pollution in major cities, such techniques don’t give residents or scientists enough actionable information, in Apte’s judgment. “A big limitation with ambient monitoring is it doesn’t tell you what people actually breathe,” he said. “It gives you some indication of the overall level of air pollution in a city, but it doesn’t tell you where the hot spots are, and it doesn’t tell you the locations where people are getting the bulk of air pollution exposure.”

Air pollution is the number five risk factor for premature death in India, causing three times as many deaths as AIDS and malaria combined. “One thing we can say with quite a bit of certainty is that air pollution is a major risk for premature death in India,” Apte said. “Air pollution now kills more people than poor water and sanitation, which historically has been a major cause of death in India.”

Specifically, the pollutant that is most harmful to human health is fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, for particles that are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. These particles are not visible to the naked eye and can be inhaled deeply into the lungs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers an annual average concentration in excess of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 to be a health concern, whereas average annual levels in India are on the order of 50 to 150 micrograms per cubic meter, according to Apte.

The primary sources of PM2.5 in India are similar to those of other countries—vehicle tailpipes, power plants and certain industrial processes. Indian cities and rural areas also have significant unregulated sources, including brick kilns, diesel backup generators, trash burning and wood-burning cookstoves.

To better measure the types and levels of pollutants that people are breathing, Apte hired an auto-rickshaw and drove it around the roads and highways of New Delhi for four months. The vehicle was outfitted with sensors placed at face height to more precisely measure what a person would inhale. He took two- to three-hour trips every day during the morning and evening rush hours.

Apte, Berkeley Lab researcher Thomas Kirchstetter, and a group of international collaborators collected more than 200 hours of real-time measurements of three types of pollutants: PM2.5, black carbon and ultrafine particles. “The levels of air pollution are truly astounding,” he said. “These are some of the highest levels of air pollution that have ever been measured in traffic anywhere in the world.”

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Prusiner appointed to board of Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research


Nobel laureate joins board aimed at increasing scientific and technological research.

Nobel laureate Stanley Prusiner, who discovered an unprecedented class of pathogens that he named prions, has been appointed to the board of directors for a newly created federal organization called the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research.

Nobel laureate Stanley Prusiner, M.D., professor in the UCSF Department of Neurology and director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, has been appointed to a 15-member board of directors for a newly created federal foundation, aimed to leverage public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships. The goal of the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (FFAR) is to boost America’s agricultural economy. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement about the creation of FFAR and its board on July 23.

Authorized by Congress as part of the 2014 Farm Bill, the foundation will operate as a nonprofit corporation seeking and accepting private donations in order to fund research activities that focus on problems of national and international significance. Congress also provided $200 million for the foundation which must be matched by non-federal funds as the Foundation identifies and approves projects.

“Studies have shown that every dollar invested in agricultural research creates $20 in economic activity,” said Vilsack. “Investments in innovation made over the past several decades have developed new products and new procedures that have been critical to the continued growth of American agriculture. We must continue to make strategic investments in research and technology if we are to remain leaders in the global economy.”

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Forbes, Buffett honor UCSF donor


Chuck Feeney recognized after decades of stealth philanthropy.

Chuck Feeney, after decades of anonymous and stealth philanthropy, has been caught in the spotlight by earning a Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award.

In presenting the award, billionaire Warren Buffett referred to Feeney as his hero, and Bill Gates’ hero as well. “He should be everybody’s hero,” Buffett remarked.

Feeney, through his philanthropic arm The Atlantic Philanthropies, is UC San Francisco’s single greatest benefactor, giving more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the years. Proof of his epic generosity is visible most prominently at Mission Bay, where he has provided indispensable support to state-of-the-art buildings and created the environment for the remarkable science that goes on within them.

“Chuck’s approach to giving is based on backing great people in achieving demonstrable outcomes. As he has noted, ‘you should think of your philanthropic efforts as a business – out to achieve a demonstrable result,’” said Feeney’s business partner, Steve Denning, who accepted the honor on his behalf.

Feeney’s deep and wide investment in UCSF is evidence of his confidence in UCSF’s ability to deliver on its promise as a world-class bioscience center.

His most recent gift to UCSF has been to Global Health Sciences, enabling UCSF to build Mission Hall, which will house its global health researchers, scientists, and students under the same roof for the first time. The building opens this fall.

Feeney also has given generously to the building of the Smith Cardiovascular Research Building, Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building, and the UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, which opens its doors in 2015.

“Chuck Feeney is an extraordinary human being – a visionary, a humanitarian, and a pragmatist,” said Interim Chancellor Sam Hawgood, M.B.B.S. “These traits have made him an indispensable partner in our evolution as a global health science hub. We are thrilled that he is being recognized for the magnitude of his remarkable generosity around the world.”

Committed to “giving while living,” Feeney transferred nearly all his and his family’s assets to The Atlantic Philanthropies with the intent to give it all away during his lifetime. For the first 15 years, Feeney swore The Atlantic Philanthropies staff to secrecy and gave anonymously, until he was outed by Forbes Magazine. By 2016, Atlantic Philanthropies will close its books, having emptied its $7.5 billion coffers into the promising causes Feeney has carefully chosen over the years.

“Chuck Feeney has changed the face of philanthropy,” said Hawgood. “Giving while living substantially increases the value of a gift both emotionally and financially. The working relationship we have with Chuck has been a source of inspiration for us all, personally and professionally.”

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Dairy training aims to boost Rwanda to health


UC Davis initiative is working to improve dairy cows’ health and productivity in African nation.

Cows provide Rwandan farmers with a nutrient-rich source of food for their families.

In Rwanda, the expression “have milk” — “gira amata” — is not part of a milk-mustachioed marketing campaign. It’s a wish for prosperity.

UC Davis scientists hope to make that wish come true in the small African nation, by improving dairy cows’ health and productivity — and thereby people’s health, too.

Dairying is a centuries-old enterprise in Rwanda, but production levels are quite low, and the milk is often contaminated with bacteria that pose health risks for cows and people.

“The underproduction of milk in Rwanda is heartbreaking,” said professor Ray Rodriguez, executive director of the UC Davis Global HealthShare Initiative.  Rwandan cows produce just 5 liters of milk per day on average, whereas if the cows were healthy and well cared for, they should produce 25 to 40 liters per day, he said.

Partnership with Rwanda

The UC Davis Global HealthShare Initiative is coordinating a partnership among campus scientists and students, and their colleagues in Rwanda.

The UC Davis partners are not only teaching Rwandan veterinarians, veterinary students, university faculty and government officials how to improve the health and productivity of dairy cows and the safety of milk, but how to provide the same training around Rwanda, a nation of smallholder farmers.

Faculty members on the team are Rodriguez and Jim Cullor, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine and director of its Dairy Food Safety Laboratory.

Their team comprises Somen Nandi, co-founder and managing director for Global HealthShare and principal investigator for its Rwanda project, and several graduate and undergraduate students.

“It’s about feeding the kids,” Cullor said. “It’s the children of Rwanda who are our customers.”

Rodriguez added that the project also is a reminder of the international aspect of modern health issues. “All health is now global health; we can’t just look at our health in the U.S. in isolation,” he said.

Focus on mastitis and ‘rural tech’

The UC Davis team is focusing on mastitis, a bacterial infection of the cow’s udder and the most common dairy cattle disease in the United States. In Rwanda, mastitis reduces milk production, causes milk to be unfit for sale and may result in the cow’s death.

During the past year, the UC Davis team has provided training to 40 Rwandan veterinary students, university faculty and government officials, teaching them practical techniques for preventing mastitis and identifying the different types of bacteria that are likely to be found in milk.

The success of the Rwandan program relies upon developing a collaborative partnership with the Rwandan government, and identifying technologies that are appropriate for that country.

For example, sophisticated laboratory tests used in the United States are not economically practical for Rwanda. Instead, the UC Davis team is training the veterinary professionals and students to prepare petri dishes on which microbial cultures can be grown.

“It’s not low tech; we call it ‘rural tech,’” Cullor said.

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Grant will advance research on African malaria mosquito


UC Riverside’s Bradley White will produce critical tool aimed at crippling Anopheles gambiae.

Bradley White, UC Riverside

Malaria, the most deadly mosquito-borne disease, kills more than 500,000 people each year, with more than 90 percent of the deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.  While poverty and poor medical care contribute to the African malaria burden, the importance of the uniquely efficient mosquito vectors present in Africa cannot be overlooked.

One particularly promising area of research involves genetic engineering of mosquitoes to prevent transmission.  Although great progress has been made in developing mosquitoes that cannot transmit malaria, more knowledge is needed before such mosquitoes can be released.

Bradley White, an assistant professor of entomology at UC Riverside, has received a five-year grant of more than $1.8 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one of the many institutes that make up the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant will allow his lab to produce fine-scale recombination rate maps for the African malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae.

The grant is a NIH “R01” grant, RO1 being an NIH activity code.  At 31, White is one of the youngest NIH R01 principal investigators in the country (well less than 1 percent of NIH principal investigators are 31 or younger).

“By the end of the project, we will have produced these recombination rate maps that can be used to model and predict the efficacy of various novel vector control strategies,” said White, who joined UC Riverside in 2011.  “Ultimately, this project will provide a critical tool in the ongoing fight against one of humanity’s ancient foes.”

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UCLA physicians use Google Glass to teach surgery abroad


Teaching surgeons can watch operation and comment via this tech tool.

Imagine watching a procedure performed live through the eyes of the surgeon. That’s exactly what surgical leaders in the United States were able to do while overseeing surgeons training in Paraguay and Brazil with the help of UCLA doctors and Google Glass.

UCLA surgeon Dr. David Chen and surgical resident Dr. Justin Wagner have made it their mission to teach hernia surgery around the world and are harnessing the latest technologies to help.

“Hernia repair is the most common operation performed worldwide,” said Chen, assistant clinical professor of general surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “From a global health perspective, it is as cost-effective as immunizations because it allows patients to regain function and resume work and other daily activities.”

It is also an easily teachable procedure that lends itself to the advent of this kind of technology, according to Chen, associate director of surgical education and clinical director of the Lichtenstein Amid Hernia Clinic at UCLA.

The team used Google Glass, which is worn like conventional glasses, but houses a tiny computer the size of a Scrabble tile outfitted with a touch-pad display screen and high-definition camera that can connect wirelessly to stream live.

With Chen and Wagner’s help, local surgeons at a hospital in Paraguay in late May wore Google Glass while performing adult surgeries to repair a common type of hernia in which an organ or fatty tissue protrudes through a weak area of the abdominal wall in the groin. This type of hernia is commonly found in both children and adults.

Through Google Glass, the surgeries were viewed “live” via wireless streaming in the United States to a select group of leading surgeons who could watch and oversee the procedures. The experts could also transmit their comments to the surgeon, who could read them on the Google Glass monitor. The surgeries are also being archived for later training purposes as well. Chen added that the educational program ensures competency and quality of the operations.

“We are one of the first to use Google Glass in teaching and training surgeons from outside a country,” said Chen. And he says hernia surgery is just the beginning.

“Our goal is to utilize the latest technologies like Google Glass, Facebook and Twitter in connecting everyone in medicine worldwide for educational purposes that can help improve medical care in resource-poor countries,” said Chen. “These cost-effective applications can ultimately be used for other surgical procedures and medical training as well.”

The UCLA team also visited Brazil, where they used Google Glass during three hernia surgeries and also streamed a live debriefing session afterwards. The team plans to train 15 surgeons from around the country in September. These surgeons will then become trainers to teach other surgeons at several regional hospitals for underserved patients. Similar programs will be implemented in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Ecuador this fall.

These training projects are part of an educational arm of Hernia Repair for the Underserved, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free hernia surgery to children and adults in the Western Hemisphere. Chen, who serves on the organization’s board, is spearheading these educational projects with the UCLA team to help “train the trainers” and increase the number of surgeons performing this procedure in underprivileged countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Chen and Wagner also work closely with UCLA’s Center for Advanced Surgical and Interventional Technology (CASIT) in developing new ways to help educate doctors remotely.

They have even streamed surgical lectures to Haiti from UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.

“We are developing practical applications for these technologies so that surgeons in any setting can have access to the global surgical community from within their own operating rooms,” said Wagner. “Even after the training is over, local surgeons can be teleproctored remotely so they will remain connected to experts worldwide.”

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UC Davis faculty share cancer research innovation with partners in Spain


Workshop in Madrid runs June 12-14.

Ralph de Vere White, UC Davis

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers take center stage this week in Madrid during the second in a series of workshops designed to enhance cultural, academic, scientific and business relations between UC Davis and Madrid.

Cancer center Director Ralph de Vere White will share the podium with Primo Lara, Julie Sutcliffe and Luis Carvajal in presentations on cancer imaging and diagnosis and improving patient outcomes in oncology through clinical and translational research initiatives. The Cancer and Regenerative Medicine Life Sciences Workshop runs June 12-14.

The global partnership was organized by the UC Davis School of Education and Office of Research with the Madrid Network, comprising more than 750 businesses, research centers and universities. The network, focused on innovation, represents the Madrid region’s government, Comunidad de Madrid, in the agreement with UC Davis.

De Vere White, a distinguished professor of urology, will give an overview on the comprehensive cancer center and its role in improving survival rates in patients with advanced disease. Specifically, he said, he will focus on the center’s partnership with Jackson Laboratories (JAX West), an National Cancer Institute-designated cancer research facility, to find more targeted treatments for bladder cancer using a mouse model capable of growing human tumors.

De Vere White said he hopes to interest counterparts in Spain to cooperate in research that can advance and quicken the pace of development and clinical use of more precise cancer therapies. He likened the potential of the collaboration to the international approach to finding drugs to control the virus that causes AIDS.

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Videos highlight UC Global Health Day


Talks from fourth annual event available on UCTV.

Julea Vlassakis from UC Berkeley leads a demonstration in the breakout session entitled, "Innovation and Infrastructure for Slum Health: Advancing Technology to Work in Low-Resource Settings." (Photo by Robert Durell)

Videos of the keynote presentations from the fourth annual University of California Global Health Day are now available for streaming on UCTV.

More than 400 people attended the 2014 UC Global Health Day at UC Davis on April 26. The event was sponsored by the UC Global Health Institute, with support from UC Davis’ Office of the Chancellor, School of Veterinary Medicine and School of Medicine.

The event featured presentations from faculty and students across the 10-campus UC system on topics ranging from global health diplomacy, maternal and child health, animal health, emerging infectious diseases, economics, migrant health, and more. Keynote presenters included UC President Janet Napolitano, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, USC Institute for Global Health Director Jonathan Samet, and UC Davis professors Jonna Mazet and Andrew Hargadon.

Visit the UC Global Health Institute website for more information, including submissions to the Global Health Video Challenge and a photo collage with some of the highlights of the day.

The 2015 UC Global Health Day will take place at UCLA.

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