BANGALORE: Groups of Indian scientists have collaborated with experts from New York-based Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health on a programme to identify diseases originating in animals that have the potential to infect humans.
Columbia University’s (CU) W Ian Lipkin, a virologist popularly known as ‘virus hunter’ for his pioneering use of molecular methods for pathogen discovery, was in the city on Thursday and he spoke about the new programme that will focus on modern techniques to identify emerging infectious diseases.
The first project under the collaborative programme involves analysing 200 cerebrospinal fluid specimens of children from a hospital in Uttar Pradesh who have unexplained meningitis or encephalitis, said Dr Lipkin during his lecture at National College, Basavanagudi.
The Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem) in the city will use its high-throughput sequencing technology to analyse the specimens. A team of scientists led by Shahid Jameel at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) in New Delhi, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP) and mathematicians from the C R Rao Advanced Institute of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science in Hyderabad are also a part of this project, inStem Dean S Ramaswamy told Express.
The Centre for Infection and Immunity at CU headed by Dr Lipkin will help inStem put together everything, Prof Ramaswamy said. “We believe this is the first such project undertaken in the country. In India, there is no quick way of responding to diseases. Scientists are discussing to take up specific projects in these areas,” he stated.
Dr Lipkin said a vast majority of emerging infectious diseases originate in wildlife, such as influenza, monkeypox, yellow fever and others. “The idea here is to look at the interface between wildlife, domestic animals and people who are likely to come in contact with animals either because they live in areas that have been deforested or they are poachers and so on. We could then be able to intercept these infections before they fully cross over from wildlife and domestic animals into humans,” he explained.
Citing the example of the 1999 encephalitis outbreak in New York, in which Dr Lipkin was the first to implicate the West Nile virus as the cause of the epidemic, he said the origin was found in geese that were grown somewhere in Palestine/Israel, which was carried by a mosquito that infected a bird in New York. Similarly, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in China in 2003 originated from bats, he said.
“We are a globally-linked world and if there is an outbreak, it’s all the same thing. International health regulations say every country must have the ability to do diagnosis and discovery within its own borders,” he said