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October 5, 2021

USAID DEEP VZN scientists hope to collect more than 800,000 samples over the project’s five years, most of which will come from wildlife.USAID / Flickr

To better identify and prevent future pandemics, the University of Washington has partnered with a five-year global collaborative agreement with the US Agency for International Development. The new Discovery & Exploration of Emerging Pathogens – Viral Zoonoses, or DEEP VZN, project has planned funding of approximately $ 125 million and will be led by Washington State University.

The effort will strengthen the scientific capacities of partner countries to safely detect and characterize viruses that can spread from wildlife and domestic animals to human populations.

“The DEEP VZN project offers an exciting chance to better understand why the world is experiencing more frequent and severe outbreaks of zoonotic infectious diseases transmitted between animals and humans,” said Dr Peter Rabinowitz, co-principal investigator of the USAID DEEP VZN and Professor of Environmental Sciences and Occupational Health at the UW School of Public Health.

“It means gaining knowledge about new viruses that could cause problems in the future, and the ecosystem changes that appear to be behind the process of virus jumping between species,” Rabinowitz added. “The hope is that this better understanding will lead to the prevention of future pandemics and more resilient ecosystems.”

Rabinowitz is also director of the UW Center for One Health Research and co-director of the UW Alliance for Pandemic Preparedness.

The project plans to initially partner with five countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to help local organizations conduct large-scale animal surveillance programs in their own countries safely and test samples. viruses using their own laboratory facilities. This will avoid having to ship samples to other countries for testing and build an international network of laboratories capable of responding quickly to outbreaks.

“Since the vast majority of viruses that trigger pandemics originate in non-human animals, it is critical that we determine which of the many new zoonotic viruses we are currently identifying are most likely to transfer from species to species. human, to spread easily from person to person. person and cause serious illness or death, ”said Dr Judith Wasserheit, co-principal investigator of the project and chair of the UW Department of Global Health.

“The UW Alliance for Pandemic Preparedness focuses on a proactive and integrated systems approach to pandemic preparedness that has brought together internationally recognized leaders in the types of laboratory methods that will allow the DEEP VZN team to fully sequence and characterize new viruses under unprecedented conditions. breadth and depth, ”said Wasserheit, Alliance Co-Director. “In addition, the Alliance’s approach has catalyzed collaborations between these laboratory scientists; One Health leaders working at the interface of human, animal and environmental health; and global health leaders who will work with colleagues in target countries to identify high-risk locations and subpopulations at the human-animal interface.

The DEEP VZN project will focus on finding previously unknown pathogens from three viral families that have great potential for viral spread from animals to humans: coronaviruses, the family that includes SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19; filoviruses, such as Ebola virus; and paramyxoviruses, such as the Nipah virus. With 70% of new viral outbreaks in humans coming from animals, understanding future threats helps protect the United States as well as partner countries.

The objectives are ambitious: to collect more than 800,000 samples over the five years of the project, most of which will come from wildlife; then to detect whether known and new viruses of the target families are present in the samples. When these are found, researchers will determine their zoonotic potential, or the ability to spread between animals and humans.

This process is expected to produce 8,000 to 12,000 new viruses, which the researchers will then screen and sequence the genome for those posing the greatest risk to animal and human health.

The UW Medicine lab effort, led by Dr. Alex Greninger, assistant professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, will utilize the cutting edge research expertise of five recognized UW Medicine labs. internationally to develop innovative techniques and provide references and support virus detection and characterization activities by national laboratories.

“It’s time to get down to business and find new viruses. We will build capacity in other countries so that we can find new viruses and characterize them in the hope of better understanding coronaviruses and other viruses circulating around the world, ”said Greninger.

UW Medicine Laboratories:

  • The Greninger Lab will coordinate the qRT-PCR and the development of extensive serological tests and training in the country, the recovery of the viral genome and the characterization of the viral glycoproteins.
  • The David Baker Lab will model novel viral glycoproteins to determine the risk potential based on in silico screens for the potential affinity of human receptors.
  • The David Veesler Lab has detailed the attachment and viral entry mechanisms for new paramyxoviruses and coronaviruses and will extend these biochemical studies to new viral glycoproteins discovered in DV.
  • The Michael Gale Jr. Lab will determine the degree and mechanisms of escape of innate immunity in human cells by new viruses.
  • The Van Voorhis laboratory will produce recombinant proteins for serological analysis in the country, as it did for SARS-CoV-2.

UW’s Department of Global Health will apply its experience in over 145 countries and expertise in capacity building through the International Center for Health Education and Training, or I-TECH, to support the sustainable sampling and strengthen national laboratory programs.

In addition to UW and WSU, USAID DEEP VZN includes virology expertise from the University of Washington in St. Louis, as well as data management and in-country expertise from public health nonprofit organizations PATH. , based in Seattle, and FHI 360, based in North Carolina. . These partners have a presence and well-established partners in the countries of the target regions.

“To make sure the world is better prepared for these infectious disease events, which are likely to occur more frequently as wilderness areas become more and more fragmented, we need to be prepared,” said Felix Lankester, researcher USAID DEEP VZN Principal and Associate Professor. with WSU’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Health. “We will work not only to detect viruses, but also to build capacity in other countries, so that the United States can work with them in doing this important work.”


For more information contact Jake Ellison at [email protected]

This story was adapted from a press release from Washington State University.

Tag (s): Alex Greninger • Alliance for Pandemic Preparedness • Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences • Department of Epidemiology • Department of Global Health • International Training and Education Center for Health • Judith Wasserheit • Peter Rabinowitz • population health • School of Medicine

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