- by breakdengue

Breaking dengue – better together

Better TogetherThe World Health Organization (WHO) wants to reduce the dengue death rate by 50% and morbidity by 25% by 2020, but only a concerted effort by researchers can achieve this.
That was the message coming from the International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases (ISNTD) at their vector control conference ISNTD Bites in London last week.
ISNTD Director Marianne Comparet said a great deal of research is ongoing to improve understanding of disease-spreading mosquitoes, disease surveillance, genetics, and sophisticated mapping technology.
Much of this work, regardless of whether it was originally inspired by efforts to control dengue, malaria or chikungunya, could help to defeat a number of diseases spread by mosquitoes.
“Multi-disciplinary collaboration is absolutely key to neglected tropical diseases,” said Comparet, opening the event at London Zoo.
This means that regardless of where researchers are based or which area of disease control they work in, greater effort is required to connect people across academic disciplines.
Action required
There is growing urgency behind this call for collaboration given the growth in dengue fever cases in recent decades: 50 years ago, fewer than 10 countries had reported epidemics of severe dengue. Today, the disease is present in over 100 countries. The WHO says that over 2.5 billion people are at risk – more than 40% of the world’s population.
Technology has an important role to play according to the WHO, as it allows for multidisciplinary collaboration in a way previously impossible.
This is why Break Dengue has created Dengue Lab, a platform for dengue experts from various disciplines where they can share data and collaborate on potential solutions.
Broad coalition
The ISNTD Bites conference showcased the broad range of academic disciplines working on vector control, many of which can help to break dengue.
For example, you might not expect to find computer giant IBM at an infectious diseases conference, yet one of the stars of ISNTD Bites was Dr. Kun Hu of the IBM Almaden Research Center in the US. She presented cutting-edge disease modeling work under way in her lab, which could have a profound impact on a range of diseases.
IBM is modeling the disease dynamics of dengue to understand how the disease spreads, which serotypes are dominant and the severity of symptoms. It even allows researchers to study the impact of climate changes on dengue outbreaks.
Deepening understanding of the disease can give public health officials the tools to fight back against their spread. Similar technology is also being used to model the spread of HIV, flu, and Ebola.
This work is powered by complex mathematics but the modeling tool that IBM has built – known as STEM – is open to scientists and public health officials around the world.
“The system is open source and free. It allows for predictive modeling and rapid development of new models in an emergency,” says Dr. Hu.
Pulling all the pieces together
The ISNTD Bites conference brought together experts on mosquito monitoring, evolutionary genetics, insecticides, and genetically modified mosquitoes.
It was, perhaps, a glimpse of how experts should be collaborating – across disciplines, across continents – towards a shared public health goal.