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History of Global Health Impacts

In November 2002 an animal virus spilled over from the civet cat into humans and caused an outbreak of the deadly disease, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), in the Guangdong Province of China. A physician who had treated a SARS patient spent a night in a Hong Kong hotel in March 2003 and unwittingly spread the disease to other travelers and, by April 2003 SARS had spread to every continent on the globe affecting 29 countries including the United States.

Caption: Spread of SARS along international travel routes February to April 2003

Image: Outbreak of SARS (red exploding star) in southern China (November 2002) and in Hong Kong (February 2003). Arrows show travel of infected persons along international air travel routes resulting in outbreak of SARS in Taiwan and Philippines in February; in Mongolia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Thailand, India, South Africa, Brazil, United States, Canada, Spain, France, Switzerland, Ireland, UK, Sweden, Germany and Romania by the end of March; and in Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Kuwait, Colombia, Finland and Russia by the end of April 2003.

Credit: Paul Lartey, AAAS-STPF/NSF

In our connected world, public health is synonymous with global health. Biothreats of any type, natural or deliberate, anywhere in the world are a direct threat to the United States. That is why current US policy mandates that the spread of infectious diseases and disease outbreaks must be stopped wherever and however they occur.

The following are selected stories of how discoveries from NSF-supported basic research are helping to improve our preparedness against biothreats and therefore meeting the mandate.

NSF's aggressive response to the security threat of the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa
The first outbreak in West Africa of the deadly Ebola disease affected over 20,000 people and killed 11,310. NSF challenged scientists, through the Rapid Response Research (RAPID) mechanism, to find ways of preventing such outbreaks from becoming global pandemics. Find out more here.

Image: Health workers putting on protective garments used during disease outbreaks. Credit: Athalia Christie

Credit: Athalia Christie

Bioengineered plants that produce antibody to help fight deadly diseases
NSF support (2005-2006) of research on chemical secretions on plant leaf surfaces led to technology for producing antibody on leaves. This was adapted in 2014 for manufacture of anti-Ebola antibody, a key but scarce component of the anti-Ebola drug ZMapp™. Find out more here.

Portable device for molecular tracking and control of disease outbreaks in real-time
NSF-funded basic research in nanoscience (1994) yielded technology patented in 1998 and now used in a hand-held genome sequencer called the MinION. In 2015, the MinION was used for molecular-tracking and control of Ebolavirus infection in Guinea, the epicenter of the 2014 outbreak in West Africa. Find out more here.

Rapid non-invasive point-of-care diagnostic for malaria
NSF-supported work (2011) has led to a breakthrough rapid diagnostic test UMT® that does not require blood draw and yields results in minutes rather than in hours. UMT® is a urine test that detects malaria infection with the convenience and ease of a pregnancy test. Find out more here.

New drug targets in the malaria parasite
The gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 developed in 2010 through NSF support has been used to identify 200 previously unknown genes in the malaria parasite. These genes are unique but essential to parasite survival and are therefore targets for novel antimalarial drug discovery. Find out more here.

Innovative technologies to control mosquitoes
NSF-supported research (2011) has led to smart products for effective and safe control of mosquitoes without resorting to pesticides. These contain specific attractants for egg-laden mosquitoes and either kill the hatched larvae or contaminate the adults with hormones that prevent their eggs from maturing. Find out more here.

Caption: Attract and kill technology

Image: Four female Aedes mosquitoes landed on device using attract-and-kill technology.

Credit: Agenor Mafra-Neto, ISCA Technologies

Caption: Real-time mosquito detection and classification sensor.

Image: Autonomous mosquito detection and classification sensor with illustration of mosquito flying across.

Credit: Eamonn Keogh, UC Riverside

Device that warns of mosquito-borne disease outbreak
NSF-funded basic research on computer algorithms for shape recognition has led to the invention of a low-cost autonomous sensor for detection, identification, classification and counting of mosquitoes in real-time and in the field. The technology can warn of the potential outbreak of diseases such as malaria, West Nile and Zika. Find out more here.

NSF-supported research yields promising experimental influenza vaccine
Basic research on protein trafficking in bacteria, supported by NSF in 2005, has led to technologies for bioengineering nanoparticles for immunization against the influenza virus. In animal studies, the new vaccine gives long-lasting, 100% universal protection against influenza viruses. Find out more here.

Killing mosquitoes-fighting malaria: Promising results from tests in Africa
Real life tests were recently completed on a smart product, developed with NSF support, for controlling mosquitoes. The product helped to bring the mosquito population down to zero, during the rainy season in a malaria endemic area, when the population would normally be at its peak. Find out more here.