Combating Pandemic Threats

Acute infectious diseases are the leading cause of death in the developing world and the third leading cause of death in the United States. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected through travel and trade, the probability of infectious disease pandemics is higher than ever. The CII leads comprehensive, integrative programs to combat pandemic threats:

Emerging Infectious Diseases & Outbreak Response

As globalization progresses, disease transmission becomes faster and more expansive. Infectious disease outbreaks represent a profound threat to global health, economic development and political stability. Therefore, it is crucial to adopt a universal outlook on disease surveillance and the management of outbreaks. In an effort to weave a cohesive global public health system, CII has projects in more than 40 countries and has developed the capacity to deploy our mobile diagnostic laboratory for immediate response to emerging infectious disease threats.

CII faculty have been leaders in emerging infectious disease research for more than 30 years. They have been instrumental in outbreak response strategies against HIV/AIDS, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, Hendra, anthrax, H5N1 influenza, HlN1 pandemic influenza, Ebola, Marburg, LuJo and Nipah. In 1999, CII researchers recognized West Nile virus as the cause of an encephalitis outbreak in New York City. In 2003, we introduced the first sensitive diagnostic test for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Drs. Ian Lipkin and Thomas Briese hand-delivered 10,000 SARS test kits to Beijing during the peak of the SARS epidemic. In 2012, CII was invited by the ministry of health in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the only academic center to assist with identifying the source of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Microbe Discovery & Surveillance

CII is committed to assembling a “global immune system” that enables scientists and clinicians to manage potential threats before they can affect the health of communities worldwide. The first step toward achieving this goal is being able to quickly identify the pathogens that cause disease. This is CII’s specialty.

CII’s unique access to samples and data has been invaluable in creating and validating diagnostic assays for infectious diseases and exploring mechanisms by which microbes cause disease. Pathogen discovery projects, particularly at the interface of human and animal populations, give CII researchers the ability to identify “the next HIV” before it becomes a global threat. Diagnostic tools are the first line of defense against the spread of disease. The traditional approach to prevention involves identifying pathogens, cataloging infections, and protecting the public from vectors of disease. We cannot fight diseases efficiently without understanding their source.

CII investigators receive more than 40,000 samples annually from around the world that they screen for pathogenic threats. They are routinely recruited to investigate diseases that other groups are unable to diagnose. Lujo virus-associated hemorrhagic fever in South Africa, human metapneumovirus-related respiratory illness in mountain gorillas in Rwanda, SARS, the arenavirus behind a string of organ transplant-associated deaths, and the link between pneumonia, H1N1 influenza and high mortality in Argentina are a few examples of the conditions that CII scientists have deciphered in its laboratories. CII possesses the technological capacity to culture known and novel pathogens, build assays to measure infection, and establish animal models for the study of disease mechanisms. These tools help CII scientists understand how pathogens interact with their hosts, which ultimately assists the development of new vaccines and drugs.

Zoonosis & One Health

Approximately 70 percent of emerging infectious agents originate in animals. Since the emergence of HIV, West Nile virus, SARS and H1N1 (swine flu), the public has become more aware of the potential threats posed by zoonoses, infectious diseases that come from animals. 

CII investigators lead laboratory and field projects focused on monitoring viruses in wildlife and domestic animals in an effort to understand and potentially predict how and when a disease will jump from one species to the next. CII scientists also investigate changes in habitats to understand viral evolution and the emergence of new pathogens. CII’s work is rooted in the One Health philosophy, whose goal is to integrate the work of human health workers, domestic and wildlife veterinarians, and environmentalists into a seamless public health network. 

Training Programs

CII is dedicated to promoting global health through innovative research and training programs in infectious disease. CII has trained more than 30 investigators from 19 countries in infectious disease discovery and diagnostics and has established joint research training laboratories with the Peoples Republic of China, the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for pathogen discovery to conduct surveillance, identify new infectious microbes, establish novel platforms for diagnostics, and develop drugs and vaccines to treat diseases in humans and animals.