Health & Medicine

UC Davis institute gets $100 million to fight pandemics

One of the largest grants ever given to UC Davis – $100 million – will fund international research to increase the detection of and response to viruses including Ebola, the university announced Friday.

The grant comes from the U.S. Agency for International Development and its Emerging Pandemic Threat Program. The money will be distributed through the university’s One Health Institute, a global consortium conducting a five-year effort in more than 20 countries, the bulk of them in Africa.

The award will fund the second phase of the institute’s program, which includes researching how viruses such as Ebola and HIV transfer from animals to humans.

The first phase of the program was seen as key in stemming a pandemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo this year, said Christine Kreuder Johnson, professor of epidemiology at UC Davis and lead researcher at the One Health Institute.

“The way we’re implementing this is by looking at how people are coming together with wildlife and livestock, and the underlying causes for why people come together with animals in high-risk settings,” Johnson said. “We’re looking at the behavioral aspects of these settings as well as the ecological factors that produce disease emergence,” she said.

The conversion of land into human settlements will be studied in countries including Uganda, where many new settlements exist in areas where pandemics are prone to arise. Among the areas to be studied are Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where ecotourism brings humans into contact with animals and the diseases they carry.

In countries such as Cambodia and Laos, the consortium will work in public market settings where dense human populations live close to animals being sold for food or in the wildlife trade. The project will sample the animals being sold, the domestic animals that live near those markets, and surrounding human population.

Included will be an effort to track viral epidemics including such viruses as SARS and MERS.

Johnson said the success of the program was seen recently during an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, researchers and other partners sent scientists and other workers to identify sick individuals faster than has seen been in other recent outbreaks – such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The Congolese government was able to implement control measures within five days. The speed of implementation greatly reduced the death toll, Johnson said.

Forty-nine individuals died from the Ebola virus in that country.

On Friday, the World Health Organizations announced that the Democratic Republic of Congo had eradicated the threat of Ebola.

To date, there have been 15,351 reported Ebola cases in eight countries since the outbreak began, with 5,459 reported deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

Organizations in the consortium includes the Smithsonian Institution, EcoHealth Alliance, Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity and the International Society for Infectious Disease.

Call The Bee’s Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.