Infectious diseases still plagues the world, including the dreaded Ebola virus, SARS, Zika, and a new monster, coronavirus.
Scientists around the world are racing to find a cure, but have faced a serious problem: Virus mutations make treatments harder to develop, increasing the global risk of serious new diseases.
The solution is to crowdsource technology to find new treatments by bringing together scientists from around the world, including from the U.S. and China. This approach has been described in a fascinating paper by Adam Brumm and Borkat Bullat about a public-private network of companies and institutes with research budgets of over $100 million.
The network is called RippertNet and includes more than a hundred interdisciplinary teams working on various aspects of the problem.
Three notable contributors to RippertNet — the lab at Stanford owned by John Mitchell, known as John Nussbaum, founded in 1969; research led by George Church at Harvard; and the lab of Rick Klausner at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York — have been excellent sources of information and know-how.
The Rockefeller University, in New York, is developing better tools for detecting transmission of deadly viruses.
One of the scientists behind RippertNet, Dawn Quinlan, is a who’s who of CDC geneticists. She’s credited with finding some of the first dozen probable case reports in Texas and Vermont of whooping cough, the “whooping cough” the CDC is famous for.
And Quinlan, who’s known as Jeff, has found a way to speed up diagnosis of all new viruses by working together with the CDC to get its extensive data infrastructure to work more quickly.
Quinlan acknowledges some of the challenges of gathering better data.
Most bioinformatics databases can’t be accessed in real time, or immediately, meaning everyone who needs better data needs to come together to identify areas where researchers have something to offer.
That is obviously a political problem as well.
Since the full story of the cause of new pandemics has yet to be determined, some people might view the efforts to find a cure as too self-interested.