Ecology of Infectious Diseases grants jointly announced by National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation

October 31, 2000

National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, and National Science Foundation, Arlington, Virginia -- Initial awards have been announced to fund 12 research projects under the new Ecology of Infectious Diseases initiative. The joint NIH-NSF initiative supports efforts to understand the underlying ecological and biological mechanisms that govern relationships between human-induced environmental changes and the emergence and transmission of infectious diseases. The highly interdisciplinary research projects will study how large-scale environmental events -- such as habitat destruction, biological invasion, and pollution -- alter the risks of emergence of viral, parasitic, and bacterial diseases in humans and other animals.

The initiative is a team effort to bridge gaps between scientific disciplines in order to meet a critical need. The grants are funded jointly by NSF and three NIH Institutes and Centers -- the Fogarty International Center (FIC), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). These four organizations have jointly committed more than $23 million to fund the projects over a period of 5 years. Other Federal agencies participating in the program are NASA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

"FIC initiated this collaborative effort to address an important gap in the ability of the scientific and public health communities to predict the emergence and transmission of infectious diseases in relation to our rapidly changing global environment," says FIC Director Gerald T. Keusch, M.D. on behalf of the NIH partners. "This initiative will allow institutions throughout the world to participate in studies that can lead to the development of predictive models for disease emergence, allowing implementation of strategies to prevent and control disease before an outbreak occurs."

Adds NSF Director Rita Colwell, Ph.D., "The current spread of the West Nile virus, for example, brings home to all of us the critical need to understand the ecological dynamics of diseases and pathogens. This kind of knowledge is at the heart of understanding our planet's biocomplexity, the interrelatedness of all life to its environment. The studies funded by this competition demonstrate how basic science can have important societal impacts."

The following are successful applicants for the new awards: * Dr. David Anderson and colleagues at Colorado State University will lead a collaborative effort with the USGS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study the ecology of rabies transmission in commensal bat colonies with the aim of developing a predictive model to help understand risk of bat-borne diseases in relation to urban sprawl.

* Dr. Philip Craig and colleagues at the University of Salford (UK), together with investigators in China, France, Ireland, Japan, and the United States, will study the transmission of human alveolar echinococcosis (a highly pathogenic disease resulting from infection by a tapeworm) in farming communities in China. The project aims to develop predictive models of relative risk to humans of this and other parasitic diseases in relation to animal husbandry and land-use practices, including deforestation.

* Dr. Andre Dhondt and colleagues at Cornell University will lead a project to study a pathogenic bacterium, Mycoplasma gallisepticum, in house finches in order to develop predictive models on the spread of aerially transmitted bacterial diseases. Emphasis will be placed on human contributing factors, including population density, bird feeding, farming, and urban sprawl (which modify the spread and maintenance of disease). The results will aid in understanding this pathogen and a variety of other aerially transmitted diseases.

* Dr. Wayne Getz of the University of California, Berkeley will collaborate with investigators from South Africa to study the spread and impact of bovine tuberculosis in the African buffalo in South Africa's Kruger National Park. This project will examine the influence of population distribution, population structure, and population movement, as well as a variety of environmental variables, including fires, water availability, vegetation, and placement of fencing.

* Dr. N. Thompson Hobbs and colleagues at Colorado State University, in collaboration with investigators at the USGS and elsewhere, will examine the effect of changing land use on the spatial and temporal dynamics of prion disease in wildlife. The project aims to develop models of disease dynamics and use the models to investigate the effects of habitat compression and fragmentation resulting from sustained changes in human land use.

* Dr. Joseph Kiesecker and colleagues at the Pennsylvania State University will lead a study seeking to understand the influence of physical and chemical changes in wetlands on outbreaks of flatworm parasites in amphibian hosts in the northeastern United States. The goal of this study is to identify key environmental changes resulting from urbanization that influence outbreaks of parasitic diseases.

* Dr. Charles King of Case Western Reserve University, will lead a collaboration of investigators from the United States, Israel, and Kenya to research the impact of human population growth and climate variation on human infection rates by the blood fluke Schistosoma haematobium in Kenya. Infection with S. haematobium causes urinary schistosomiasis, a major cause of human morbidity and mortality throughout Africa and the Mideast. The goal of this project is to define predictive principles and methods for effective interruption of parasite transmission from snails to human hosts.

* Dr. Linda Lowenstine and colleagues at the University of California, Davis will lead a team of investigators from the Marine Mammal Laboratory, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and others to study the interaction of organochlorine pollutants in the development of herpesvirus infections and cancer in California sea lions. The study aims to identify key internal and external environmental factors in order to develop a predictive model of infection and cancer incidence in this sentinel species for marine and coastal systems.

* Dr. Stephen McGarvey of Brown University, together with investigators in Holland, the Philippines, and England, will study the ecology and transmission of the blood fluke Schistosoma japonicum associated with rice cultivation in the Philippines. The objective of this project is to develop a dynamic model of the influence of agricultural expansion and intensification, including specific management practices, on the risk of human infection and disease.

* Dr. Eliska Rejmankova and colleagues at the University of California, Davis will lead a team of researchers from the United States and Belize to study the effects of deforestation and phosphorus runoff from agricultural fields on the populations of mosquito vectors of malaria and the risk of human infection.

* Dr. Thomas Unnasch and colleagues at the University of Alabama at Birmingham will lead a collaboration to study the ecology of mosquito-borne encephalitis virus diseases, including Eastern equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, and West Nile virus in the southeastern United States. The goal of this project is to elucidate the ecological factors necessary to promote viral enzootics and to identify the factors necessary to allow the viruses to escape the avian zoonotic cycle and infect humans and other mammals.

* Dr. Scott Weaver and colleagues at the University of Texas Medical Branch will lead a collaborative effort that includes the USDA, the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Naval Medical Research Center Detachment in Peru to examine the effects of environmental changes, such as deforestation, habitat fragmentation, urbanization, and the introduction of exotic mosquitoes, on the ecology of several mosquito-borne viruses endemic to the Peruvian Amazon and on the risk of infection in humans.

NSF is an independent federal agency which supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. NSF-related materials and information are available at FIC, NIAID, and NIEHS are components of the NIH. NIH supports biomedical and behavioral research training and is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. FIC promotes and supports scientific research and training internationally to reduce disparities in global health. FIC-related materials and information are available at NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, autoimmune disorders, asthma, and allergies. NIAID-related materials and information are available at NIEHS seeks to reduce human diseases by discovering their environment-related causes, and by studying the variable susceptibility of people to various environmental factors. NIEHS-related materials and information are available at

NIH/Fogarty International Center

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