Google's philanthropic arm Google.org announced Tuesday it issued grants of $14.8 million aimed at combating diseases in Southeast Asia and Africa, as part of its Predict and Prevent initiative.
The grants that were awarded to universities and research centers will be applied toward identifying hot spots where diseases may arise, identify new pathogens affecting humans and animals, and halting pandemics before they circulate.
Researchers have found that 75 percent of new diseases are transmitted from animals to humans and that as deforestation and climate change occurs, the frequency of contact between the two increases.
"The holy grail is to predict disease outbreaks before they happen. For Rift Valley fever and malaria, long-term weather forecasts and deforestation maps can show us where to look for outbreaks, up to six months in advance," Frank Rijsberman, Google.org program director, said in a statement.
Here's a look at the grant recipients and their plans:
The Woods Hole Research Center - $2 million multi-year grant to support high-resolution satellite mapping of forests to enhance monitoring of forest loss and settlement expansion in tropical countries. WHRC will create information to share with environmental and human experts so they can better anticipate the emergence of infectious diseases.
Columbia University International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) - $900,000 multi-year grant to improve the use of forecasts, rainfall data and other climate information in East Africa, and link weather and climate experts to health specialists so they can better predict outbreaks of infectious diseases.
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research - $900,000 multi-year grant to build and implement a system that will use weather projections to inform and target response to disease threats in West Africa..
Global Viral Forecasting Initiative (GVFI) - $5.5 million multi-year grant (with equal funding from the Skoll Foundation) to support the collection and analysis of blood samples of humans and animals in hot spots within Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, China, Malaysia, Lao PDR and Madagascar. The GVFI team, headed by Dr. Nathan Wolfe, has demonstrated that potentially pathogenic animal viruses jump more frequently to humans than previously believed and will work to detect early evidence of future pandemics.
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health - $2.5 million multi-year grant to support research to accelerate the discovery of new pathogens, and to enable rapid, regional response to outbreaks by establishing molecular diagnostics in hot spot countries including Sierra Leone and Bangladesh. Dr. Ian Lipkin and colleagues have discovered more than 75 viruses to date, established critical links between infection and the development of acute and chronic diseases, including pneumonia, meningitis/encephalitis, cancer, and mental illness.
Children's Hospital Corporation supporting Healthmap and ProMED-mail - $3M multi-year grant to combine HealthMap's digital detection efforts with ProMED-mail's global network of human, animal, and ecosystem health specialists. Together, these programs will assess current emerging disease reporting systems, expand regional networks in Africa and Southeast Asia, and develop new tools to improve the detection and reporting of outbreaks.