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December 2, 2016

NIH-Led Effort Examines Use of Big Data for Infectious Disease Surveillance

Big data derived from electronic health records, social media, the Internet and other digital sources have the potential to provide more timely and detailed information on infectious disease threats or outbreaks than traditional surveillance methods. A team of scientists led by NIH reviewed the growing body of research on the subject and has published its analyses in a special issue of the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Traditional infectious disease surveillance—typically based on laboratory tests and other data collected by public health institutions—is the gold standard. But, the authors note it can have time lags, is expensive to produce and typically lacks the local resolution needed for accurate monitoring. Further, it can be cost-prohibitive in low-income countries. In contrast, big data streams from Internet queries, for example, are available in real time and can track disease activity locally, but have their own biases. Hybrid tools that combine traditional surveillance and big data sets may provide a way forward, the scientists suggest, serving to complement, rather than replace, existing methods.

“The ultimate goal is to be able to forecast the size, peak or trajectory of an outbreak weeks or months in advance in order to better respond to infectious disease threats. Integrating big data in surveillance is a first step toward this long-term goal,” said Dr. Cecile Viboud, co-editor of the supplement and a senior scientist at the Fogarty International Center.

Rapid Screening Test Identifies Potential Therapies Against Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Researchers at NCATS, the Clinical Center and NIAID have created a new way to identify drugs and drug combinations that may potentially be useful in combating infections that are resistant to many different antibiotics. They developed a test to rapidly screen thousands of drugs to determine how effective they were against a variety of types of resistant bacteria.

Klebsiella pneumoniae

The screening method provides a potential new approach to repurpose known drugs and compounds to potentially help deal with powerful, hospital-borne infections, as well as emerging infectious diseases.

NIH scientists used the test to screen approximately 4,000 approved drugs and other biologically active compounds, identifying 25 that suppressed the growth of two drug-resistant strains of Klebsiella pneumoniae that have become resistant to most major types of antibiotics. Drug-resistant Klebsiella has been a source of fatal infections in many hospitals across the country.

The researchers also used the screening test to gauge the effectiveness of combinations of drugs against antibiotic-resistant bacteria in this study. They found three different three-drug combinations that were effective against 10 common strains of multi-drug-resistant bacteria.

The results were published Nov. 9 in the journal Emerging Microbes & Infections.

The new screening test applies high-throughput screening technology to examine thousands of drugs and compounds that inhibit bacterial growth. The 25 newly identified drugs and compounds consisted of 11 FDA-approved drugs and 14 drugs still under investigation. They include antibiotics, antifungals, antiseptics and an antiviral, antimalarial and anticancer drug/compound.

“The results are very promising and we think that the test can eventually help repurpose approved drugs and other compounds and find clinically relevant drug combinations that can be approved for use in different ways that we have never used before,” said Dr. Wei Zheng of NCATS.

Testing of Inactivated Zika Vaccine in Humans Begins

The first of 5 early stage clinical trials to test the safety and ability of an investigational Zika vaccine candidate called the Zika purified inactivated virus (ZPIV) vaccine to generate an immune system response has begun at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research clinical trial center in Silver Spring. Scientists with WRAIR developed the vaccine.

The experimental ZPIV vaccine is based on the same technology WRAIR used in 2009 to successfully develop a vaccine for another flavivirus called Japanese encephalitis. The ZPIV vaccine contains whole Zika virus particles that have been inactivated, meaning that the virus cannot replicate and cause disease in humans. However, the protein shell of the inactivated virus remains intact so it can be recognized by the immune system and evoke an immune response.

NIAID partially supported the preclinical development of the ZPIV vaccine candidate, including safety testing and non-human primate studies that found that the vaccine induced antibodies that neutralized the virus and protected the animals from disease when they were challenged with Zika virus.

“We urgently need a safe and effective vaccine to protect people from Zika virus infection as the virus continues to spread and cause serious public health consequences, particularly for pregnant women and their babies,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci.

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