No small threat

Viruses causing epidemic vector-borne diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes.

Viruses causing epidemic vector-borne diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes.

How’s this for an unnerving statistic? Infectious diseases kill more people worldwide than any other single cause – that’s according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A dengue outbreak in Hawai‘i in 2001 and a global resurgence of vector-borne and zoonotic infectious diseases, nearly all originating in Asia, led to the establishment of the Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research in 2003. The Center and its activities are generously supported by institutional funds and a grant from the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program, of the National Center for Research Resources, of the National Institutes of Health.

Hawai‘i’s strategic location as a prominent international port and its geographic proximity and strong ties to institutions within Asia and the Pacific provide a unique setting from which to monitor the emergence and spread of newly recognized infectious diseases and to investigate outbreaks of well-known microbial infections of regional concern and global importance. The Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research is among a handful of research facilities in the world exploring this resurgence.

Richard Yanagihara, Director of the Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research.

Richard Yanagihara, Director of the Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research.

Said Richard Yanagihara, Director of the Pacific Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Research, “Infectious diseases are among the most urgent public health and economic problems facing the Asia-Pacific region in the new millennium. In recent years, microbes newly emerging in Asia have caused major epidemics, resulting in significant loss of human lives and devastating economic consequences worldwide.”

Although the myriad factors responsible for the alarming global resurgence of infectious diseases are not fully understood, demographic and societal changes are likely contributors. That is, the unprecedented population growth since World War II has been one of the principal driving forces behind uncontrolled urbanization. Also, the rapid movements of people, animals (and their endo- and ecto-parasites) and commodities via jumbo jets and high-speed trains, along with the insidious breakdown of the public health infrastructure and the misplaced emphasis on curative rather than preventive medicine, have all contributed to the regional and worldwide resurgence of infectious diseases.

The NIH-funded center is a pillar program that draws on the complementary strengths and multidisciplinary expertise within the John A. Burns School of Medicine and the College of Natural Sciences. Because the prevention and control of infectious diseases demand expertise from more than a single discipline, the new center is anchored by the tenets of multi- and trans-disciplinary research, comprising elements of epidemiology and public health, community and family medicine, biobehavioral health, bioinformatics and biostatistics, and microbiology and immunology.

The Center’s overall vision is to become a regional translational science center of research excellence for new, emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. And its mission is to develop and deploy improved rapid diagnostics, effective low-cost treatments and affordable vaccines for tropical infectious diseases, which disproportionately affect underserved ethnic minority and disadvantaged communities in the Asia-Pacific region.

For more information, visit: http://pceidr.jabsom.hawaii.edu/.

Biocontainment suite for research on vector-borne and zoonotic viruses.

Biocontainment suite for research on vector-borne and zoonotic viruses.

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