Read the October 2008 Columbia Alumni
This month's edition includes information about a happy hour with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, Homecoming on Oct 4 and a panel discussion on globalization.
Oct. 23, 2008
Two research centers at Columbia University have been awarded a combined total of $3.4 million from Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the Internet search company to improve prediction and prevention of infectious diseases. More than $14 million was awarded by Google.org's Prevent and Predict Program to support partners working to prevent diseases outbreaks in Southeast Asia and Africa.
Google.org's Predict and Prevent initiative supports efforts to identify hot spots where diseases may emerge, detect new pathogens circulating in animal and human populations, and respond to outbreaks before they become global crises.
The Center for Infection and Immunity (CII), part of the Mailman School of Public Health, was awarded a $2.5 million multi-year grant to support research to accelerate the discovery of new pathogens and to enable rapid, regional response for outbreaks. The Center will use the funds to establish molecular diagnostics in hot-spot countries, where emerging diseases are most likely to appear, including Sierra Leone and Bangladesh.
The Center for Infection and Immunity's director, W. Ian Lipkin, M.D., John Snow Professor of Epidemiology, and his 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.
The second Columbia center to receive a Google.org grant is the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), which was awarded $900,000 to improve the use of climate information to better predict outbreaks of infectious diseases such as malaria in Ethiopia. The IRI is part of Columbia University's Earth Institute and is based in Palisades, New York.
"IRI's work has shown that climate information is a vital tool to helping identify hot spots where diseases may emerge. We're thrilled that they'll link climate and health specialists in the effort to predict and prevent the next pandemic," said Frank Rijsberman, program director at Google.org.
Climate plays a critical role in determining the distribution of a number of epidemics, such as malaria. The transmission is dependent on prevailing environmental conditions such as rainfall and temperature. Year-to-year changes in the amount of rainfall and temperature can therefore affect the pattern and timing of epidemics that are climate sensitive. Poor countries with few resources are often unable to respond to these changing epidemics, leaving vulnerable populations with few prevention and treatment options.
"Google.org recognizes just how important the climate-disease connection is to preventing illnesses, saving lives and protecting livelihoods," said Stephen Zebiak, IRI's director-general. "IRI, a leader in the use of climate information in disease prevention, is committed to putting this generous grant from Google.org to critical use in vulnerable areas."
IRI will launch its Google.org grant-funded project in Ethiopia, where it will focus on malaria and meningitis, which are of particular concern to the country's Ministry of Health ministry. The work builds on IRI's experience in developing a malaria early-warning system for Southern Africa. It has worked closely with state meteorological and health agencies to use seasonal forecasts, satellite measurements and other data to inform resource allocation decisions for preventing and treating disease outbreaks. The IRI has successfully employed early-warning systems based on climate data in other countries, including Senegal, Botswana, Columbia, Burkino Faso, Eritrea, and Sri Lanka.
The project will ultimately lead to the development of disease-mapping tools and other applications. They will be housed in the IRI's open-access Data Library and Map Rooms, and can be readily viewed and queried in web-browser platforms such as Google Earth.
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