Researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the University of Hawaii will use bioinformatics, grid computing and networking infrastructure, as well as collaborative ties to Asian institutions to learn more about avian flu, in hopes of helping to head off a much-feared pandemic in the region of the world where the disease has already cost human lives.
“We will use modern high-throughput biology to annotate the biological structures of different subtypes of the avian influenza virus, at the same time as we study their variations,” said principal investigator Peter Arzberger, director of Life Science Initiatives at UC San Diego. “We will also construct a grid infrastructure to support avian flu research – an infrastructure that could one day handle research on other infectious diseases as well.”
Added Arzberger: “Fighting a pandemic will also be easier if we put in place the infrastructure to replicate data, support medical informatics, and even assist in remote diagnosis.”
UC San Diego will lead the one-year project, with more than $350,000 in funding from the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC), part of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command (USAMRMC). TATRC invests in telemedicine and advanced medical technologies in order to deliver world-class health care to military personnel. The increasing frequency of biological events relevant to national security, and current disease surveillance systems in the United States (U.S.) require an integrated computational environment to support easy access to a set of universal tools, novel algorithmic approaches and tracking mechanisms for reproducibility at a global level.
Having Asian researchers involved in the TATRC-funded project lends an added dimension of urgency and depth to the U.S. research program. “Avian flu is very important to sites worldwide, but especially in Asia, where most of the known cases have occurred,” said Wilfred Li, executive director of the UC San Diego-based National Biomedical Computation Resource (NBCR). “This partnership will give U.S. researchers enhanced access to new genomic information as it becomes available in the region. It will also promote global cooperation in case of a flu pandemic.”
Institutions in three Asian nations will leverage TATRC’s investment by funding their own researchers to work with their counterparts in California and Hawaii, as part of their ongoing collaboration in the National Science Foundation-funded Pacific Rim Applications and Grid Middleware Assembly (PRAGMA).