Grant supports a program to create an early warning system for future pandemics
Congressman Brian Higgins announced a federal grant totaling $1 million awarded to the University at Buffalo. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and awarded through the first phase of the Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention Initiative (PIPP), the project, led by Jennifer Surtees, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, will support the development of an early warning system for future pandemics – and work to rebuild community support around public health matters.
“The COVID-19 pandemic shocked the Western New York community and the rest of the world. It challenged our public health efforts and put a strain on our health care system as a whole,” Higgins said. “Of the many things we have learned from this crisis, the most important is that we must be better prepared for future pandemics. Thanks to this investment from the National Science Foundation, we are creating the technology to track viruses early and working with community partners to rebuild trust in the public health system. These efforts will not only prevent significant economic disruptions, but also save lives.”
Higgins’ team said, “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to design, build and implement the next generation of systems that monitor and track the emergence, spread and transmission of viruses and bacteria with pandemic potential on a local, national and global scale. In addition to pathogen and disease surveillance systems, there is also a critical need for more robust networks, infrastructure and protocols to communicate the risks of a pandemic at the local, regional and national level.”
In July 2020, Higgins introduced a bill that would establish a National Medical Command and a grant program within the Department of Health and Human Services to prevent and respond to infectious diseases to meet these needs. And earlier this month, the White House released its First Annual Report on Progress Towards Implementation of the American Pandemic Preparedness Plan, which includes a focus on developing better tools to forecast potential future pandemics.
This 18-month grant awarded to Surtees will support the establishment of the Center for Ecosystems Data Integration and Pandemic Early Warning Systems in Western New York.
Higgins’ team said, “The research and technology initiative will create and deploy an early warning system for pandemic preparedness and strengthen community engagement to build trust and foster partnerships that help guide the design and implementation of measures that mitigate future pandemics.
“Integrating data from wastewater surveillance and the analysis of nasal swabs, researchers will develop a baseline of infectious pathogens to better track their variants. Building on already available technology, the University at Buffalo will continue to develop more efficient ways to monitor pathogenic viruses. Additionally, researchers will work with the Erie County Department of Health to develop more effective strategies to communicate the risks of a pandemic to the public and mitigate the impact of future pandemics.”
Surtees said, “We have solid relationships with the Buffalo Museum of Science, the Buffalo Public Schools and others – and we will be working to strengthen the trust that we have developed already. We will be integrating these groups into what we are doing and helping to build a more resilient community.”
The PIPP, in its first phase, provides funding for development grants, which focus on fundamental research and capabilities needed to address the challenges of infectious disease pandemics through prediction and prevention. Grants will support planning activities that “address the challenges of predictive intelligence, developments in research and technology that support state of the art forecasting, real-time monitoring, mitigation, and prevention of the spread of pathogens, as well as the formation of multidisciplinary teams.”
The first phase of this initiative focuses on high-risk/high-reward research with the potential for a significant societal impact. The National Science Foundation anticipates releasing a second phase of grants for this initiative in 2023.