Columbia University and CDC Partner With Zambian Scientists to Prevent Pandemics

July 5, 2022

Columbia University’s Global Alliance for Preventing Pandemics (GAPP) has established a formal working agreement with the University of Zambia’s School of Veterinary Medicine (UNZA-Vet) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to train Zambian public health professionals to adopt advanced Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technologies to better identify and contain pathogen outbreaks.

GAPP will leverage the work between the CDC and UNZA-Vet to train Zambian public health professionals to use capture-sequence techniques to search for the animal reservoir of Lujo virus while empowering the Zambia team to engage in regional priority pathogen surveillance and discovery programs such as rabies and antibiotic resistance efforts. GAPP enjoys generous foundation support from the Bacon Foundation and the Mushingashi Conservancy to accomplish a sustained program of training and capacity building in Zambia.

These technologies, termed capture-sequencing for their ability to efficiently and rapidly identify pathogen sequences drawn from a human patient, animal, or the environment, while minimizing the complications of patient genetic sequence privacy concerns, provide public health scientists and clinicians a more economical and sustainable way to use NGS in the fight against viral and bacterial pathogens.

GAPP director Ian Lipkin, MD, John Snow Professor of Epidemiology and director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, has a long history of medical service in Zambia, having first identified the deadly Lujo virus in 2008 which helped clinicians provide an intervention saving the only person known to survive the virus.  GAPP Administrative Director Ken Wickiser, PhD, recently recruited from West Point, leads the effort to build the global network of public health professionals including current members from Mali, Liberia, Mexico, Indonesia, and Mongolia.

“The entire GAPP team is passionate about global health security and promoting medical equity and independence. We are eager to collaborate with Zambian professionals to discover the reservoir for one of the most lethal pathogens on the planet while supporting and facilitating the Zambian vision for public health in-country through a sustained partnership built on trust, respect, and good science,” says Lipkin.

About GAPP

The Global Alliance for Pandemic Prevention (GAPP) is a public health initiative designed to detect, contain, and respond to infectious diseases that threaten human health, wildlife, and food security. GAPP will establish sustainable infrastructure for microbial discovery, surveillance, diagnostics, and response through capacity building and the pursuit of research questions that focus on causes of unexplained febrile illnesses and cross-species transmission of infectious diseases. It will introduce inexpensive methods for the detection of viral and bacterial footprints that will enable rapid in-country identification and characterization of known and novel infectious threats. It will also provide the infrastructure needed to optimize, validate and deploy diagnostic tests, drugs, and vaccines. The goal is to build a community of public health thought leaders, laboratory and data scientists, and epidemiologists who are committed to working together internationally to build a comprehensive, evidence-based system for pandemic risk reduction.