The University of Wisconsin-Madison has received nearly $10 million to fund research that would aid in disease surveillance.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced Nov. 19 it would give the university a five-year, $9.5 million grant to identify virus mutations that would serve as early warnings of potential pandemic influenza viruses.
Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a virologist at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, is principal investigator on the project. It brings together an international team of scientists trying to find a more reliable method of identifying influenza threats to human health.
To facilitate early recognition, Dr. Kawaoka and his colleagues will look for mutations in viral proteins that allow avian influenza viruses to bind to human receptors or facilitate efficient replication in human cells.
"The improved ability to predict whether a virus has pandemic potential would be an invaluable asset to the global community," Dr. Kawaoka said in a UW-Madison press release. "Millions of lives might be saved if intervention methods—such as social distancing, antiviral compound distribution, and vaccine development and production—could be implemented early."
The foundation, known for its work in helping developing countries, gave away $2.8 billion in 2008. This most recent grant dovetails with efforts by the U.S. government to prevent the next global pandemic. The U.S. Agency for International Development awarded a $75 million grant to more than a dozen nonprofits, universities, and organizations to establish a global early warning system (see JAVMA, Dec. 1, 2009).