Novel Zoonotic Diseases Warrant Innovative Approaches
Viruses cause human suffering in acute and chronic diseases, with one estimate suggesting that scientists have identified only 4,000 of the estimated 1.67 million viruses thought to exist on earth. At least some of these unknown viruses are zoonotic or capable of “spillover” transmission from animals to humans at any time. Due to global trade and travel, climate change, and other factors, that risk has increased substantially in recent decades. And it is only a matter of time until a new infection is observed.
Today, the most well-known zoonotic disease is COVID-19, which has killed more than 6.5 million people globally and infected approximately 631 million. Strong evidence points to a seafood market in Wuhan, China, as the epicenter of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. While the virus is believed to have originated in bats, a well-known vector for many zoonotic diseases, positive environmental samples indicate that it jumped to a raccoon dog housed at the market. Native to East Asia and sold for meat and fur, the animal likely spread the disease to a human host. To effectively combat future zoonotic disease outbreaks before they become epidemics and pandemics, we must be prepared with innovative solutions.
Responding to emerging novel diseases poses a unique challenge, as it can be difficult to know which ones may threaten public health. Today, predictive algorithms can be used as a biosurveillance tool, offering an early warning sign for outbreaks that warrant a public health response. As individual disease cases are reported to local health officials and diagnosed by public health professionals, cumulative data points can calculate disease risks and effectively predict disease events, enabling informed planning and responses.
These diagnoses demand new and accelerated disease diagnostic technologies to rapidly and accurately identify infectious diseases, including zoonotic viruses. When diagnostic tools can identify the characteristics of the new disease on a tighter timeline, then suitable therapeutics and treatment plans will be generated faster, saving more lives.
Our innovative work aims to leverage advances in gene editing technologies to develop field-forward diagnostic and biosurveillance technology that enables rapid detection of zoonotic and other viruses, bacteria, host biomarkers, and other diseases anytime, anywhere. Collaborating with partners, we are working on designing, developing, prototyping, and deploying a novel nucleic acid detection device. This is a massively multiplexed detection (MMD) device for 1,000 or more targets in various samples, including respiratory, soil, serum, and vector-borne (mosquitos and ticks). The goal is for this MMD device to be simple to operate, low-cost, and rapidly reconfigurable to provide high-impact, high-quality, and trusted information that enhances decision-making and concomitant action. As a result, it will improve the speed and efficacy of triage and treatment, thus augmenting the standard of care for the military and public health domains in austere environments.
With an understanding of where and what a disease is, an appropriate response can be implemented before more people become ill, public health infrastructure is overwhelmed, or the disease mutates to become more virulent.
By: Amy Manning-Boğ, Chief Innovation Officer, MRIGlobal