TAG: "Infectious disease"

UC Davis awarded $100M to lead program to predict, prevent pandemic threats


Second phase of program will help attack problems like Ebola before they start.

The PREDICT program helps detect emerging viruses that move among people, livestock and wildlife, such as this macaque in Nepal. (Photo by One Health Institute, UC Davis)

The U.S. Agency for International Development has awarded up to $100 million for the second phase of the PREDICT project based at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. PREDICT is part of the Emerging Pandemic Threats, or EPT, program — an unprecedented international campaign to rapidly detect and respond to emerging viruses such as Ebola and SARS that move among people, wildlife and livestock.

PREDICT is managed by the school’s One Health Institute. The new award is one of the largest extramurally funded projects in UC Davis history.

“PREDICT and its partners have enabled a platform for effective collaboration across disciplines and geographic borders to promote global health problem solving,” said Jonna Mazet, director of the One Health Institute and principal investigator of the new award. “We can now attack problems, like Ebola, before they start — reducing fear and improving response and control.”

The award for the PREDICT project opens a second phase for the EPT program. Building on its long-standing efforts in disease surveillance and response, USAID is developing multiple initiatives to help prepare the world for emerging infectious diseases like pandemic influenza, SARS and Ebola. Other partners within USAID’s EPT program include the PREPAREDNESS & RESPONSE and ONE HEALTH WORKFORCE projects, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Health Organization.

Building on success

For the past five years, the One Health Institute has led a global consortium of implementing partners in conducting pathogen surveillance, viral discovery and global health capacity strengthening in more than 20 countries. In that time, the PREDICT team:

  • Equipped, supplied and trained staff in 32 diagnostic laboratories around the world to safely and properly process and test wildlife samples for viruses of pathogenic potential.
  • Trained 2,500 government personnel, physicians, veterinarians, resource managers, laboratory technicians, hunters and students in biosafety, surveillance, laboratory techniques and outbreak investigations.
  • Discovered more than 800 novel viruses at high-risk pathogen transmission interfaces.
  • Responded to 24 disease outbreaks, including multiple Ebola outbreaks in central Africa.

The new award will build on the success of the first phase of PREDICT, funded in 2009. In collaboration with other U.S. government, international and host country partners, it will continue to strengthen health capacity and to intensify pathogen surveillance and risk assessment activities in geographic areas and animal-human interfaces identified as high-risk for the emergence and spread of disease.

Ebola response

Tragically, the world is currently responding to the worst Ebola outbreak in history. The extreme challenges faced in this response are amplified by the lack of public knowledge on the virus and its potential hosts and transmission. Unfortunately, the countries in West Africa were not expecting or prepared for this epidemic, primarily because there was previously no evidence that the Ebola virus was present in that region of Africa.

In contrast, during a separate Ebola outbreak in this same time period in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the PREDICT team and other partners were actively engaged with the government and inserted into the public health infrastructure, sick individuals were detected much more quickly. Samples were tested and control measures implemented all within just days of the first signs of illness. The rapid response and significantly reduced death toll in DRC illustrate what can be achieved when a One Health workforce is trained, employed and able to be activated in the face of extreme health challenges.

In this second and new phase, PREDICT will continue to focus surveillance on viral families of epidemic and pandemic potential. These include coronaviruses, the viral family to which SARS and MERS belong, influenza viruses, and filoviruses, such as Ebola.

This second phase also will increase focus on the effects of human behavior and other drivers for disease emergence and spread, with a focus on livestock and people living in high-risk areas for disease spillover and transmission. By working with social and behavioral scientists in a transdisciplinary approach, PREDICT will integrate virus detection with investigations of human-animal interactions and the social and cultural reasons for those interactions. This One Health approach is designed to improve our understanding of the dynamics of zoonotic disease spillover, evolution, amplification and spread in order to inform future prevention and control measures.

Identifying and controlling emerging diseases

The One Health Institute will execute the project in a coordinated consortium with EcoHealth Alliance, Metabiota, Smithsonian Institution and the Wildlife Conservation Society, along with valued technical partners at Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity, HealthMap at Boston Children’s Hospital, International Society for Infectious Disease, and UC San Francisco’s Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center.

“Our work has shown that emerging diseases are on the rise and represent a growing threat to our health, our economies, and our global security,’ said Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a partner in the PREDICT consortium. “This next phase of funding allows us to identify the activities that cause diseases to emerge in high-risk disease ‘hotspots’ so that we can minimize the impacts of a new virus spilling over and infecting people.”

The consortium will continue to work closely with partner organizations in each country, as well as with a network of laboratories, universities, government ministries and agencies in these global hotspots. PREDICT is engaged in the Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia regions, working in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda and Vietnam, along with a new focus in West Africa in response to the Ebola outbreak.

The consortium is united by its belief in the One Health approach, which employs the knowledge that the health of animals, people and the environment are inextricably linked to solve global health problems.

“The new funding for PREDICT will allow our One Health Institute investigators and their partners to continue to identify pandemic threats and build capacity in developing regions worldwide,” said Mazet. “The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has an extensive history of excellence in public health programs that address societal needs. This new funding will ensure our research teams’ continued contributions to enhance capabilities to prevent future pandemics.”

“Attempts to date to control deadly viruses have been almost entirely reactionary due to structural and technological limitations,” Mazet said. “The world is now poised to be able to identify the key processes influencing the evolution, spillover, amplification and spread of pathogen threats in order to halt them at their source.”

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Breakthrough in managing yellow fever disease


UC Riverside-led research could lead to antiviral therapeutics, better diagnostics.

Ilhem Messaoudi (right) is an associate professor of biomedical sciences in the UC Riverside School of Medicine. (Photo by L. Duka)

By Iqbal Pittalwala, UC Riverside

Yellow fever is a disease that can result in symptoms ranging from fever to severe liver damage. Found in South America and sub-Saharan Africa, each year the disease results in 200,000 new cases and kills 30,000 people.  About 900 million people are at risk of contracting the disease.

Now a research team led by a biomedical scientist at UC Riverside has determined that the yellow fever virus, a hemorrhagic fever virus, replicates primarily in the liver. Therefore, other organ failures that often follow in people with the disease are due to secondary effects.

When the virus targets the liver, it replicates rapidly causing significant damage to liver cells. In the process, inflammatory cytokines – proteins secreted by cells especially of the immune system – are made in massive amounts, which soon gain access to the blood stream.  These cytokines are most likely responsible for the damage to distant organs, the research team’s findings suggest.

The research team also identified a clinical parameter that could greatly help in managing yellow fever cases.

“Yellow fever causes severe loss of lymphocytes,” said Ilhem Messaoudi, an associate professor of biomedical sciences in the UC Riverside School of Medicine, who led the research project. “This process, called lymphopenia, occurs before any measurable changes in liver enzymes can be detected – that is, about a day or so before we see changes in the liver. It could provide an earlier clinical outcome measure of subsequent disease severity, giving doctors a good prognostic tool for offering more aggressive supportive care for these patients.”

Study results appear today (Nov. 20) in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

The research, performed on rhesus macaques (currently, the best model for studying human yellow fever infection) at Oregon National Primate Research Center, is the first study on yellow fever in non-human primates in more than 20 years.

“Yellow fever is truly a neglected tropical disease,” Messaoudi said. “Even though it continues to cause fatality, it remains understudied. While it is true there is a highly effective vaccine, it remains extremely challenging to get comprehensive vaccine coverage in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.  Moreover, the vaccine works well if you are between one and 55 years old.  It is not safe for babies or the elderly, who could develop yellow fever from the vaccine.”

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New test rapidly diagnoses bloodstream infection


New technology can detect bacterial invaders with unprecedented speed, sensitivity.

UCI project scientist Don-Ku Kang observes the IC 3D technology, which can rapidly detect bacteria in blood samples. (Photo by Steve Zylius, UC Irvine)

A new bloodstream infection test created by UC Irvine researchers can speed up diagnosis times with unprecedented accuracy, allowing physicians to treat patients with potentially deadly ailments more promptly and effectively.

The UCI team, led by Weian Zhao, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, developed a new technology called Integrated Comprehensive Droplet Digital Detection. In as little as 90 minutes, IC 3D can detect bacteria in milliliters of blood with single-cell sensitivity; no cell culture is needed.

The work appears online today (Nov. 13) in Nature Communications.

“We are extremely excited about this technology because it addresses a long-standing unmet medical need in the field,” Zhao said. “As a platform technology, it may have many applications in detecting extremely low-abundance biomarkers in other areas, such as cancers, HIV and, most notably, Ebola.”

Bloodstream infections are a major cause of illness and death. In particular, infections associated with antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are a growing health problem in the U.S. and worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, more than 2 million people a year globally get antibiotic-resistant blood infections, with about 23,000 deaths. The extremely high mortality rate for blood infections is due, in part, to the inability to rapidly diagnose and treat patients in the early stages.

Recent molecular diagnosis methods, including polymerase chain reaction, can reduce the assay time to hours but are often not sensitive enough to detect bacteria that occur at low concentrations in blood, as is common in patients with blood infections.

The IC 3D technology differs from other diagnostic techniques in that it converts blood samples directly into billions of very small droplets. Fluorescent DNA sensor solution infused into the droplets detects those with bacterial markers, lighting them up with an intense fluorescent signal. Zhao said that separating the samples into so many small drops minimizes the interference of other components in blood, making it possible to directly detect target bacteria without the purification typically required in conventional assays.

To identify bacteria-containing droplets among billions of others in a timely fashion, the team incorporated a three-dimensional particle counter developed by UCI biomedical engineer Enrico Gratton and his colleagues that tags fluorescent particles within several minutes.

“The IC 3D instrument is designed to read a large volume in each measurement, to speed up diagnosis,” Gratton said. “Importantly, using this technique, we can detect a positive hit with very high confidence.”

A UCI spinoff, Velox Biosystems, is now further developing the IC 3D technology.

Dong-Ku Kang, M. Monsur Ali, Kaixiang Zhang, Dr. Susan Huang, Ellena Peterson and Michelle Digman of UCI contributed to the work, which received startup funding from UCI’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center, and Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. The National Institutes of Health (grants UL1 TR000153, P41 GM103540 and P50-GM076516) also provided support.

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Betting big on women, girls


Melinda Gates explains Gates Foundation’s strategy to lift countries out of poverty.

Melinda Gates talks with NPR’s Morning Edition co-anchor Renee Montagne about the source of her passion for improving conditions for people in undeveloped countries.

By Peggy McInerny, UCLA

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is betting big on women and girls to help developing countries lift themselves out of poverty, foundation co-chair Melinda Gates told a UCLA audience that filled Korn Convocation Hall on Nov. 5.

Gates sat down to talk with NPR’s Morning Edition co-anchor Renee Montagne at the 2014-2015 Arnold C. Harberger Distinguished Lecture on Economic Development of the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations. Co-sponsored this year by UCLA’s Center for World Health and the Health and Human Rights Law Project of the School of Law, the annual event is intended to bring economic policy experts to discuss their views with UCLA students and faculty.

UCLA Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Economics Harberger, who founded and supports the lecture series, was in attendance. A pioneer in the field of development economics, he has trained scores of Latin American economists over his 30 years at UCLA, where he continues to teach.

Gates has worked assiduously to restore contraception to a major place on the global health agenda. Her efforts in this direction led to the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, which brought together donors, national governments and the development community from around the world. The summit adopted the goal of providing contraception to 120 million women in the developing world by 2020.

Today, 15 developing nations have created national family planning action plans. “We funnel our money through those action plans,” said Gates, which includes support at both the policy and the project levels.

Yet, said the speaker, she quickly realized that contraception alone could not resolve culturally ingrained gender inequality. Soon she began to advocate a holistic approach to cultivate the “other half” of the population of developing countries and, in the process, reduce poverty levels and promote economic growth.

Gates’ focus on gender inequality has led the Gates Foundation to “bet big” on three core areas: health, decision making power and economic empowerment. Saying she saw incredible opportunities in these areas to change things for the better for women and girls, she emphasized that the contributions of many individuals to these causes could create palpable change in our lifetimes.

Gates went even further, saying that development as a whole needs to be looked at through a gender lens. She explained, for example, that agricultural projects often do not take into account that the primary farmers in many countries are women, who frequently seek to avoid cash crops because they lose power over cash resources.

Longstanding development data show that investments in women’s health and education lead to smaller families with healthier, better-educated children. Where women have economic opportunity and decision-making power over resources, more of those resources are also invested in their families, promoting overall economic development.

“We need men and boys in the conversation on all of these issues,” said Gates. Only by educating men first about how contraception and women’s access to economic resources benefit the health and well-being of their children and their wives, she emphasized can these things become culturally acceptable. Moreover, the way in which health education is delivered must be culturally appropriate and respond to gender-specific circumstances.

Focusing on solving today’s problems

The Gates Foundation, which has an endowment of $42 billion and has already disbursed over $30 billion in grants, is focused on solving contemporary problems of the present generation — and perhaps the next — said the speaker.

The development aid provided by the foundation is not intended to endure indefinitely, noted Gates. Neither is the foundation itself. She and her husband do not expect it to have a shelf life much beyond their own — perhaps 15–20 years at most. “We want to spend our energy and our lives doing this work for the problems of today’s society,” she remarked.

“We are trying to build capacity now, so we can funnel more and more resources through those mechanisms,” she explained. “[And] as we learn what mechanisms work in one area, we take them and try to apply them to other areas.”

At present, the foundation is deeply engaged in the health sector in developing countries, supporting vaccination programs, building governmental and human capacity in health care, and developing ways to measure the impact of interventions, particularly those designed to improve gender inequality.

“The way that Bill and I think about this is that the only role [of] a foundation is to be a catalytic wedge,” said Gates. That is, foundations are able to take the risks needed to prove what does and doesn’t work. “But,” she added, “it takes government money to scale those things up.”

After helping create a global Vaccine Alliance (known as Gavi) and raising replenishment funds for it among wealthy nations, the Gates Foundation is now asking developing countries to make contributions to vaccination programs in their countries. Over time, these contributions are expected to increase until the programs become fully funded by those nations.

As a result of these programs, Gates noted that the governments of Ethiopia and Nigeria had built out basic-level primary health care systems in the form of “health posts.” (Ethiopia has built 15,000 such centers.)

“With basic supplies to help people and with basic trained health workers, usually two women, you can get unbelievable changes in maternal and child mortality,” observed Gates. The big lesson of the Ebola crisis is that investing in this primary level of health care provides an institutional bulwark against contagious diseases, which she predicted would continue to arise in perhaps more virulent form, she noted.

Nigeria, for example, was able to contain Ebola because after the first cases were reported, one of its polio clinics (supported by the Gates Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) was transformed into an Ebola emergency response clinic. Not only was the clinic able to trace the origin and spread of the disease in the country, the government was able to distribute appropriate behavior change messages throughout the system of health posts. In contrast, Liberia’s health system rapidly collapsed in the face of the Ebola crisis, having been greatly weakened by two decades of civil war.

Participating as an interlocutor, not an observer

Gates reflected that it was a great privilege to be able to travel for the foundation and learn firsthand about the concerns of men and women in the developing world. She traced her passion to making a difference in the world to the values of her parents, who encouraged all four of their children to attend college despite the serious financial burden this goal would impose.

A practicing Catholic, Gates said she attended a Catholic high school, but sought to transfer to an academically superior school in order to get into a good college. It took a while, she said, to understand that her parents sent her to the Catholic school because they believed in its values. “I was out serving in the courthouse … in the hospital, in a school two miles down the road,” she remarked. “These very liberal nuns showed us that we could make a change in the world.”

Asked if she had gotten pushback from Catholics about her support for contraception in developing nations, Gates said she had received surprisingly little criticism from people of faith. On the other hand, she noted, push back from Rome had been expected.

Whenever she travels to a development conference, the speaker said she makes a point to stop somewhere in Africa and meet people on the ground to remind herself what the work is about. Similarly, she takes a day or two to decompress after long stays in developing countries to let the stories she has heard wash through her, experience the grief sparked by them and decide what she wants to do.

“You don’t go to these countries and not let your heart break,” she said.

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Surviving sepsis


UC Santa Barbara scientist receives $3.5M NIH grant to expand his research on sepsis.

The enzyme neuraminidase remodels the surface of platelets and glycoproteins, triggering an inherent protective mechanism that can reverse the coagulation factors that make sepsis lethal. (Photo by Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute)

It’s the most common cause of death in American hospitals and among the top five killers worldwide, but sepsis remains largely under the radar in conversations about public health — and in promising treatments.

A biomedical scientist at UC Santa Barbara may have a hand in reversing both those trends, thanks to his novel therapeutic approach and a big new grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Jamey Marth, director of UCSB’s Center for Nanomedicine (CNM) and a professor of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, has been awarded $3.5 million from the NIH Heart, Lung and Blood Institute for his continued work to boost survival rates in sepsis.

“This research funding award represents recognition by the NIH and scientific colleagues throughout the nation of the leading research in sepsis going on at CNM focused on understanding and thwarting the pathogenesis of sepsis, a common syndrome that remains one of the most difficult to detect and treat effectively,” said Marth, who is also the Carbon Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Mellichamp Professor of Systems Biology at UCSB. “With this grant, we will be able to more rapidly and more effectively follow up on our earlier discoveries of a completely new approach to the treatment of sepsis that once in the clinic may save millions of lives.”

The new grant supports an ongoing collaboration of UCSB, the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and UC San Diego that is focusing on advancing these discoveries to the point of clinical trials. His team has already shown the method increases, by twofold, sepsis survival rates in models of bacterial infection.

Now, using Cottage’s robust data registry of septic patients, including blood samples from consenting participants, the research will accelerate to further translate the approach for human patients.

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Scientists discover exact receptor for DEET that repels mosquitoes


Discovery could pave the way for better, more affordable insect repellents.

UC Davis biochemist Walter Leal has discovered which receptor on mosquito antennae detects DEET, making it an effective repellant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey, UC Davis)

DEET has been the gold standard of insect repellents for more than six decades, and now researchers led by a UC Davis scientist have discovered the exact odorant receptor that repels them.

They also have identified a plant defensive compound that might mimic DEET, a discovery that could pave the way for better and more affordable insect repellents. Findings from the study appear today (Oct. 27) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More than 200 million people worldwide use DEET, developed by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and patented by the U.S. Army in 1946.

“Mosquitoes are considered the most deadly animals on the planet, but unfortunately, not everyone who needs this repellent can afford to use it, and not all who can afford it can use it due to its undesirable properties such as an unpleasant odor,” said lead author professor Walter Leal of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

“Vector-borne diseases are major health problems for travelers and people living in endemic regions,” Leal said. “Among the most notorious vectors are mosquitoes that transmit the protozoan parasites causing malaria and viruses that cause infections, such as dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya and encephalitis.”

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Scientists trying old weapon against deadly new target


Developed at UC San Diego more than a decade ago, brincidofovir takes on Ebola.

(From left) James Beadle and Karl Hostetler, UC San Diego (Photo by Ryan Parks, UC San Diego)

With the Ebola crisis ongoing, much attention is focused upon finding a drug capable of slowing – if not stopping – the infectious, deadly and terrifying virus.

There is Zmapp, of course, the experimental biopharmaceutical produced by a San Diego-based biotech firm that was used briefly before supplies ran out. There are other anti-Ebola drugs reportedly under development in Oregon, Canada and China.

And there is brincidofovir, a compound with a decidedly unwieldy name that was discovered more than a decade ago by researchers at UC San Diego. Brincidofovir (pronounced brin-SIGH-doh-fo-veer) wasn’t invented to fight Ebola – the scientists were actually looking for a new way to fend off the menace of bioterrorism – but it may represent one of the best chances yet to conquer a virus that has killed more than 4,500 people, almost all in stricken West Africa.

In 1999, Dr. Karl Hostetler, then a professor of medicine in UC San Diego School of Medicine, got a call from officials at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. They posed a question: Could he help create a new drug to protect Americans if bioterrorists unleashed smallpox – the one-time global scourge now restricted to a few high-security labs?

There was already a drug called cidofovir that might serve, but it required an injection. NIAID officials wanted a pill, something safe, stable and broadly effective against not just smallpox, but other highly infectious, deadly viruses that might be deployed as bioweapons.

“There was a lot of talk and fear about such attacks at the time,” recalled Hostetler, now professor emeritus. “It’s still a legitimate concern.”

Hostetler, who studied the lipid molecules necessary to build cell membranes and was working on improved ways to deliver therapeutic drugs inside cells, agreed to help. Funding from NIAID arrived within days.

Over the next few years, he and colleagues created multiple analogs or variations of cidofovir. The first was brincidofovir. In cultured cell tests, the compound proved active against an array of viruses, blocking their ability to replicate.

“With any disease that causes high mortality, the idea isn’t so much to absolutely stop viral replication as to slow it down so that the patient’s immune system can catch up and ultimately eradicate the infection,” Hostetler said.

One of the viruses seemingly impacted by brincidofovir is Ebola, though Hostetler’s focus at the time was elsewhere. Brincidofovir targets double-stranded DNA viruses like herpes, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr, hepatitis and papillomavirus. Ebola is an RNA virus. It replicates differently.

“Brincidofovir is the first broad-spectrum antiviral for DNA viruses. It’s not unprecedented that it might also work against RNA viruses like Ebola, but back then, the greatest interest was in DNA viruses,” he said.

Unable to arouse outside interest and investment in brincidofovir, Hostetler founded Chimerix in Durham, N.C. to further develop the drug – both for smallpox and for other diseases. These efforts have progressed measurably. Phase 3 trials under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) animal rule are planned next year for a smallpox treatment. Phase three human trials are underway for brincidofovir as a therapy for cytomegalovirus and adenovirus – common viruses that can cause fever, diarrhea, conjunctivitis and bladder infections, but in persons with weakened or suppressed immune systems are life-threatening.

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UCSF-based team awarded $8M agreement with CDC


Team includes investigators from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC San Diego.

A UC San Francisco-based team has been awarded a multimillion-dollar, five-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct economic modeling of disease prevention in five areas: HIV, hepatitis, STI (sexually transmitted infections), TB (tuberculosis) and school health. The team, led by James G. Kahn, M.D., M.P.H., and Paul Volberding, M.D., both faculty in Global Health Sciences, is a multi-institution consortium, with 39 investigators across UCSF; Stanford University; UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC San Diego; the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Health Strategies International, and PATH. It will be based at the UCSF Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies.

The consortium was awarded $1.6 million for the first year and $8 million over the full project period. Called CAPE (Consortium for the Assessment of Prevention Economics), it will conduct economic analyses including costing, cost-effectiveness analysis, cost-benefit analysis, resource allocation, and return on investment.

“We are looking at five different health areas, using a range of economic methods – this breadth is very unusual for an economics project,” said Kahn. “We are also excited about collaborating with colleagues in the Bay Area and throughout California.”

The project advances the UCSF Global Health Sciences vision for research that crosses and links disease areas, and that integrates economics with basic and applied science. While CAPE’s geographic focus is the United States, modeling methods and tools can be adapted to global settings, using local data on population and disease characteristics.

CAPE is the largest award arising from the UCSF Global Health Economic Consortium, established in 2013.

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UC Irvine disaster medicine experts examine Ebola preparations


Article describes principles for diagnosing, treating Ebola patients while ensuring staff safety.

Kristi Koenig, UC Irvine

When the World Health Organization announced in early August that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was an international health emergency, Dr. Kristi L Koenig began anticipating the “what ifs.”

Her response: “Ebola Virus Disease: Essential Public Health Principles for Clinicians,” an article which describes the basic principles for diagnosing and treating Ebola patients while ensuring staff safety. Written in collaboration with colleagues Dr. Cassondra Majestic and Dr. Michael J. Burns, the article was published Sept. 19 in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine.

“I just had the feeling that Ebola was going to become a major topic of public discussion, similar to the situation with the H1N1 virus in 2009,” Koenig said. “I wrote the article to increase awareness that there are basic health principles that are valid for every infectious disease.”

An internationally recognized expert, Koenig is director of the UC Irvine Center for Disaster Medical Sciences, professor of emergency medicine, director of public health preparedness at the University of California, Irvine, and an attending physician in the emergency department at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange.

“We are always prepared, especially in managing all kinds of infectious diseases,” Koenig said. “Orange County is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, and UC Irvine Medical Center is the major trauma center in the county.”

Like other hospitals throughout the nation, UC Irvine Medical Center follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isolation and infection control recommendations for safely treating potential patients with the Ebola virus. Preparation efforts included assembling kits containing personal protective equipment for staff, warning signs for isolation units, and information on patient precautions, transportation and placement.

At UC Irvine, training for handling health emergencies is part of the routine.

“We prepare for hazards of all types on a regular basis,” Koenig said. “We conduct exercises for handling various viruses, such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and also practice drills for medical response to a natural disaster such as an earthquake.”

Read more about UC Irvine Medical Center’s Ebola virus preparation.

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Slime-producing molecules help spread disease from cats to sea otters


Gelatinous polymers act to provide environment conducive to transmit infectious diseases.

The spread of diseases from land animals to sea otters and other marine mammals is aided and abetted by gelatinous, sticky polymers produced by seaweed, reports a research team headed by a UC Davis veterinary infectious disease expert.

These large, complex molecules form slimy biofilms and bind water-borne organic matter into larger particles, in which disease-causing micro-organisms can become embedded and introduced to the marine food chain, the researchers discovered.

Using the parasite Toxoplasma gondii as a model, they showed how these sticky polymers increase the chance that disease-causing organisms would be picked up by marine snails, which graze on kelp and are among the common foods of some endangered sea otters.

Findings from the new study will be published Oct. 8 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“Discovering the role that these invisible polymers play in disease transmission in the ocean is a tremendous step forward in helping us better understand and mitigate the impacts of coastal water pollution on the health of wildlife and humans,” said lead author Karen Shapiro, a research scientist in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

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Ebola genome browser now online


UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute releases bioinformatic tool to assist vaccine efforts.

Jim Kent, UC Santa Cruz

The UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute late Tuesday (Sept. 30) released a new Ebola genome browser to assist global efforts to develop a vaccine and antiserum to help stop the spread of the Ebola virus.

The team, led by UC Santa Cruz researcher Jim Kent, worked around the clock for the past week, communicating with international partners to gather and present the most current data. The Ebola virus browser aligns five strains of Ebola with two strains of the related Marburg virus. Within these strains, Kent and other members of the UC Santa Cruz Genome Browser team have aligned 148 individual viral genomes, including 102 from the current West Africa outbreak.

UC Santa Cruz has established the UCSC Ebola Genome Portal, with links to the new Ebola genome browser as well as links to all the relevant scientific literature on the virus.

“Ebola has been one of my biggest fears ever since I learned about it in my first microbiology class in 1997,” said Kent, who 14 years ago created the first working draft of the human genome.  “We need a heroic worldwide effort to contain Ebola. Making an informatics resource like the genome browser for Ebola researchers is the least we could do.”

Scientists around the world can access the open-source browser to compare genetic changes in the virus genome and areas where it remains the same. The browser allows scientists and researchers from drug companies, other universities, and governments to study the virus and its genomic changes as they seek a solution to halt the epidemic.

The release of the new Ebola genome browser comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday confirmed the first case of Ebola in the United States.

The Ebola browser was started shortly after a phone conversation between Kent and his sister, an epidemiologist at the CDC, who spoke of how she and her staff were consumed with Ebola research in the face of the escalating crisis. UC Santa Cruz professor Phil Berman, an HIV specialist, had also asked Kent for help with his efforts in developing a vaccine for Ebola.

Kent asked his supervisor, UC Santa Cruz bioinformatics researcher David Haussler, if he could divert his team to Ebola work.  Haussler replied with an enthusiastic affirmative, and they pulled together a team of UC Santa Cruz bioinformatics scientists that, within a week, was able to create a fully functional Ebola genome browser.

“The incredible speed with which this group was able to assemble all the genetic information about Ebola and make it available to the world shows what a great team Jim Kent has assembled,” Haussler said.

In June 2000, Kent and Haussler released the first working draft of the human genome sequence on the Web. Two months later, Kent developed the UCSC Genome Browser, which has become an essential resource to biomedical science.

In a similar marshaling of forces in the face of a worldwide threat 11 years ago, UC Santa Cruz researchers created a SARS virus browser.

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Scientists engineer antibiotics to catch up in race against drug resistance


Souped-up antibiotics attack cells responsible for making bacteria resistant to new drugs.

We face an urgent global health problem because scientists are not developing new antibiotics as fast as bacteria are developing antibiotic resistance.

But new research from UCLA has made important progress toward solving this problem. An interdisciplinary team of scientists from UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute has developed a method to re-engineer antibiotics that sharply enhances their activity against certain key bacterial cells, called persisters, that are responsible for making bacteria resistant to new drugs.

Persister cells slow down their metabolism and shut down their mechanisms for taking in molecules, preventing normal antibiotics from getting into them, which is necessary for the drug to kill the bug. After the persister cells survive the initial antibiotic treatment, they pass on their genes as the bacteria reproduce.

Led by Gerard Wong, professor in the UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Department of Bioengineering, and Andrea Kasko, associate professor of bioengineering, the team has developed a method analogous to taking an ordinary car and adding high-performance parts to make a fast and furious street racer.

“We’re in an unsustainable race with bacteria. They become resistant to our antimicrobials too fast,” Wong said. “It takes upwards of $100 million to develop one antibiotic drug, and bacteria develop resistance to it within two years. It’s a race that we can’t win. This reality brought us to the idea of taking an existing antibiotic and renovating it, giving it a new, complementary antimicrobial ability while preserving its original ability to make a better drug overall.”

The study was published Aug. 18 online in the journal ACS Nano.

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