Automated Network Could Predict Disease Outbreaks That Originate In Animals

The AP/San Francisco Chronicle examines Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers’ efforts to create an automated network to monitor animals in an effort to predict disease outbreaks because two out of every three human diseases “originated in animals.” Tony Beugelsdijk, group leader for chemical diagnostics and engineering at the lab, and his team have created a “$1.75 million genome sequencing machine” to monitor animal diseases. The machine can do genome sequencing about 100 times faster than anything being done manually today, according to Beugelsdijk. This type of surveillance could one day help public health officials “determine what’s coming at us next,” Beugelsdijk said, adding “Do we have vaccines for them? Do we have drugs for them? When is it likely to jump species?”

AP/San Francisco Chronicle writes, “Numerous diseases have jumped from animals to humans — anthrax, hemorrhaggic fevers, West Nile virus, smallpox, malaria, tuberculosis,” adding that “[r]esearchers expect the rate to increase.” The machine is in early stages of development, but researchers would like the system to be duplicated elsewhere and then tested on different pathogens, such as TB. According to Beugelsdijk, when developed, systems could operate around the clock for public health laboratories, agriculture and defense agencies as well as the CDC (Holmes, 8/6).

In related news, PBS’ Newshour examines fears that peoples’ proximity to wild birds in Cambodia could result in an outbreak of avian influenza. Though avian flu is “common but harmless in ducks,” it is “deadly when it does make the cross-species leap to humans. Two-thirds of the 400 people who’ve contracted bird flu have died,” according to the Newshour. “Cambodia has seen just eight human cases since 2005. Almost all had very close contact with infected chickens. So far, the virus has not spread from human to human,” the Newshour reports.

The show includes interviews with an official from the WHO, a scientist and a person from the Wildlife Conservation Society (De Sam Lazaro, 8/4).