The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) has received a $5.4 gift from the Walton Family Foundation to "develop and provide a roadmap for both the public and private sectors to build resilience in the global health care supply system and to improve the availability of critical medical supplies," according to the University of Minnesota. The co-directors of the team administering the project are both directors of Consortium member centers, Michael T. Osterholm at CIDRAP and Amy Kircher at the Food Protection and Defense Institute. Osterholm has been vocal about the inadequacy of drug and medical supplies in the face of a medical emergency. He notes: “We know, based on our recent experience, that there will be more and more incidents where necessary drugs or medical supplies will be unavailable to those in crisis and, increasingly, the consequences are truly about life and death.” Kircher uses the example of the aftereffects of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico: "That natural disaster not only created a public health crisis on the ground but effectively disrupted the global supply of a critical medical supply, IV bags. This work will create an opportunity for us to apply research and build operational solutions to mitigate those surprises.”
On Thursday, Nov. 29 a group of eminent scholars and researchers convened at Meharry Medical College in Nashville to evaluate the current state of precision medicine and how access to it can be improved. Conference presenters shared a wide-ranging array of information about obstacles and solutions to delivering genomic medicine in clinical settings. Perspectives and research were shared by leading African American, Native American and Latino scholars, as well as those involved in immigrant rights and other civil rights issues. This national symposium is the first to discuss legal, policy, community outreach and clinical approaches to ensure that genomic medicine advances health equity and avoids worsening health disparities. The event was presented by the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the Consortium, and the Minnesota Precision Medicine Collaborative. View videos of conference sessions on our YouTube channel.
The University of Minnesota has announced the purchase of a start-up company sparked by faculty research. The enterprise, CoreBiome, was founded in 2017 as part of the Office of Technology Commercialization's efforts to widen the availability of therapies and products developed at the University. According to the release, "CoreBiome provides analysis of microbial communities for human health, agricultural and environmental applications." The company acquiring CoreBiome, OraSure Technologies, is "a leader in the development, manufacturing and distribution of point-of-care diagnostic and collection devices to detect or diagnose critical medical conditions." The University is a pioneer in microbiome research; the technology behind CoreBiome was developed by researchers Dan Knights, Daryl Gohl, and Kenneth Beckman, who is Director of the University of Minnesota Genomics Center, a Consortium member.
As 2018 comes to a close, one of the year's most startling scientific developments was the announcement of gene-edited twin girls born in China. While the promise and power of the technique known as CRISPR have long been known, scientists and policymakers have emphasized resisting the temptation to use it on human embryos. That is, however, precisely what He Jainkui did, as described in an article in Wired. He's attempt to contain the firestorm of criticism by proposing "a core set of fundamental human values to frame, guide and restrict clinical applications" of gene editing failed miserably, putting a point on the fact that "there are no actual international rules" for use of the technique. The primary ethical concern is limited understanding of the effects of so-called "germline editing," which is heritable and can be passed to future generations. Beyond doubts about the effects of CRISPR on the twin girls, Wired notes, "He’s research raises the spectre of gene-editing enhancements, designer babies if you will, such as making a person taller or smarter before birth," possibly heralding a new era of human-created genetic inequality.
The latest outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to grow, with officials reporting "549 total Ebola cases and 326 deaths. Eighty-two suspected cases are under investigation," according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Prevention (CIDRAP), a Consortium member. In STAT, Helen Branswell reports "this outbreak, centered in the province of North Kivu in northeastern DRC, is now the second largest in known history, with 440 cases and 255 deaths as of Sunday. That is massive in traditional Ebola outbreak terms, but still pales in comparison to the West African outbreak of 2014-2016, where more than 28,000 people were infected and more than 11,000 died." A new tool being used in this outbreak is an experimental vaccine, which was developed in 2015 and is currently allowed for compassionate use. However, there are concerns there won't be enough doses of the vaccine to adequately contain the spread of the deadly disease. Follow the development of this epidemic and public health responses to it on CIDRAP's featured topic page for the virus. Image courtesy of the European Commission ECHO via Flickr.
The University of Minnesota has announced a $5 million gift from the Ecolab Foundation in support of environmental sustainability research and education. A cornerstone of the Ecolab Foundation gift is $2 million for the establishment of an endowed chair for the Institute on the Environment (IonE), a Consortium member, to ensure sustainability thought leadership for years to come. The contribution will count toward Driven, an ambitious fundraising effort that has a $4 billion goal. The Ecolab Foundation will also invest more than $1 million in undergraduate scholarships in science, engineering, and other environmental and sustainability-focused majors and minors, providing renewable awards of $7,500 for diverse and talented students beginning in their sophomore year. "Public-private partnerships are essential to making real progress on sustainability and addressing the impacts of climate change,” said Jessica Hellmann, director of IonE, who will become the first Ecolab Chair for Environmental Leadership. “The global economic impact of climate change and other stressors make this work truly imperative, for Minnesota and around the globe.”