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Roche and start initiative for early discovery of new diseases

Roche and have recently started a joint project to demonstrate the feasibility of developing a multidisciplinary surveillance, research and response system. This system will enhance the ability to predict and prevent emerging infectious diseases in East Africa.

Roche has donated a Genome Sequencer FLX system as the backbone of this project. The project will focus primarily on arboviruses (arthropod-borne viruses), a large group of viruses that frequently cause emergent disease and are transmitted by blood-sucking insects and their arthropod cousins, such as ticks. The first disease the project will tackle is Rift Valley Fever (RVF), a lethal disease of livestock and people caused by an arbovirus spread by mosquito vectors. The initiative will survey human, livestock, wildlife and vector populations to monitor the circulation transmission and maintenance of arboviruses within them, with a focus on RVF virus; employ state-of-the-art genomics and knowledge-management systems to advance understanding of the dynamics and diversity of disease-causing agents, their vectors and their hosts; and link this wealth of new information to existing risk information and decision support tools to provide early warning of disease outbreaks and enable rapid responses to control them., the philanthropic arm of, provided a US$5 million grant to the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and partners late last year to enhance insect-carried disease discovery and surveillance of East Africa. In Nairobi, ICIPE, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and Kenya’s national organizations for health (Ministry of Health, Ministry of Public Health and Kenya Medical Research Institute), livestock (Department of Veterinary Services and Kenya Agricultural Research Institute) and wildlife (Kenya Wildlife Services) have been chosen to participate in the project.

’The East African region is known as one of the major hot beds for emergence of new infectious viral agents and new strains of known viruses. The region has also experienced large epidemics of arboviral diseases, such as Rift Valley Fever, dengue and Yellow Fever... Surveillance to monitor circulation of such agents is critical in informing public health decision for early warning and response,’ stated Christian Borgemeister, Director General of ICIPE.

Emerging infectious diseases are a substantial burden on our global economies and public health systems. Approximately 70% of emerging diseases are zoonotic, meaning that they are transmissible between humans and animals. Through the study of insects, ICIPE works to improve food production, human, animal, environmental health and natural resource conservation. In addition, ICIPE conducts research and develops methods for pest control that are selective, non-polluting and not susceptible to resistance. The aim is to develop affordable, sustainable and conservation-orientated solutions.

The high-performance 454 Sequencing System has proven a powerful pathogen discovery tool in a series of recent novel virus outbreaks. In late 2008, for example, the system was used to discover a new zoonotic arena virus responsible for a highly fatal hemorrhagic fever outbreak in South Africa. Earlier that year, as reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, the system was used to identify a previously undetected virus responsible for the death of three transplant recipients in Australia.

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