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WVRG: Virus Discovery Program in Kenya

Program Description

As envisioned, the Program's organization will be focused sharply on virology and will be based on applied science, i.e., practical science rather than basic science.

First, the Program will be comprised of two separate, but equal, components: a clinical (human) component and a veterinary component aimed at economically important agricultural animals rather than companion animals.

Second, the two components will be housed separately, though in close proximity to one another, on different floors of the same building or in two adjacent buildings. This separation will prevent cross-contamination of cultures or nucleic acids, but will allow for close interaction among the different scientists and physicians involved in the Program.

Third, each component (clinical and veterinary) will have two areas of emphasis.

1. Applied diagnostics. The application of well-established diagnostic procedures and technologies. The focus will include programs to improve and streamline diagnostics and to implement new technologies as they are developed. The training of technologists, nurses, and young physicians will be important. Close interaction and consultations with outside (i.e., community) physicians and hospitals will be critical. Clinical trials of antiviral therapies will be important for both humans and animals. It is estimated that the applied diagnostics component will consume 60% to 70% of the available resources. Using majority share of resources for this component is justified by the fact that the overall impact of the programs will be immediate.

2. Virus discovery. The identification and characterization of new viral pathogens in both humans and animals. Many human and animal diseases in sub-Saharan Africa are virus caused and are due to undiscovered or unrecognized viruses. In Kenya, the United States Army has an active pathogen surveillance program (www.usamrukenya.org/) and the International Center and Program for Virus Discovery will coordinate efforts with international research groups like the US Army, as well as with local scientists and medical professionals in Kenya.

Emphasis will be placed on the identification of these virus-associated diseases and will require a strong commitment to epidemiology. For example, what is the incidence and geographical distribution in Kenya of major birth defects and spontaneous abortions? Are there some regions of the country where live birth rates are significantly lower than others? This approach is the classical way in which outbreaks of bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) are first detected in herds of cattle.

We believe this approach will also work in identifying human disease. After a new target disease is identified, the second approach will be implemented—classic viral isolation procedures, development of new serological tests, and the use of molecular biological procedures (e.g., microarray). Once the new agent is isolated and diagnostic tests are developed, the diagnostics will be transferred to the applied diagnostics component of the Program.

Facilities for safely handling new, unidentified infectious agents will be crucial to success. Most of the tests in the applied diagnostics program could be done under biosafety level 2 (BSL2) (cdc.gov/OD/ohs/symp5/jyrtext.htm) conditions; however some may require more elaborate BSL3 conditions. Most of the virus discovery program will require BSL3 facilities since the danger of the agents cannot be known in advance.

This comprehensive approach toward the development of human and veterinary viral diagnostics and discovery will, we believe, contribute greatly to the culture, health, and economy of Kenya. Expansion of state-of-the-art healthcare to more of the population combined with the identification of new viral disease-causing agents and the development of clinical trials for the treatment and prevention of viral diseases are, and will continue to be, our most important goals. 

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