Grants Fund Research On How Infectious Diseases Spread
September 29, 2012

NSF, NIH Award Grants To Study Spread Of Diseases

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other US and UK agencies are joining forces to determine whether or not human-induced changes to the environment have played a role in the spread of West Nile virus, Lyme disease and other ailments.

The NSF, the NIH's Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) program, the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) are among the organizations studying the possible ecological and biological mechanisms that could be at least partially responsible for the increased number of cases of infectious diseases spreading in both people and animals.

"Threats to human health, food security and ecosystem services are growing, in part due to increases in the spread of diseases," Sam Scheiner, the NSF's EEID program director, said in a statement Thursday. "These research projects will provide a new understanding of the causes of that spread and help us control these growing and myriad threats."

"The interdisciplinary collaborations fostered by the EEID program promote a deeper understanding of how infectious diseases emerge and spread," added Irene Eckstrand of the NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences. "This knowledge is enormously helpful in developing effective strategies for suppressing the transmission of infectious agents in animal populations and reducing the burden of disease in humans."

Twelve grants worth a combined $12.7 million have been awarded, and the projects that are being funded will allow scientists to investigate how habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution and other large-scale environmental factors might have contributed to the prevalence of disease-causing viruses, bacterium and parasites in both people and in various animal species, the NSF said in their September 27 statement.

"With the growing global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, we face many challenges related to food security and health," BBSRC Chief Executive Douglas Kell said. "Infectious diseases have a major effect on these issues, threatening the health of humans and livestock. These new EEID projects offer international expertise to help us find solutions to this threat."

Topics that will be studied include: the effects of changes in the ocean on the ecology of infectious marine diseases; the impact that interactions amongst tick pathogens has on the emergence of the malaria-like disease babesiosis among humans in the northeastern part of the US; a study focusing on how the health of people in Brazilian slums affect the transmission of leptospirosis to animals; and the development of models to better control potential disease outbreaks.

"Animal and plant diseases cause significant losses in food production around the globe, with some pathogens also causing food-borne illnesses in humans," NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy said. "Agriculturally-relevant research supported by the EEID program is helping us understand how best to prevent, predict and respond to both native and non-native diseases that threaten U.S. food security."