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Global Health Team and Partners Monitoring Coronavirus Outbreak

Global Health Surveillance

MRIGlobal’s infectious disease experts are keeping a close eye on a coronavirus outbreak stemming from the Chinese city of Wuhan. Our team has been gathering information since the illness first appeared last month and started spreading around to neighboring countries. Recently, the first case in the U.S. was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Washington state, followed by other confirmed cases in the U.S. Globally, nearly 6,000 cases have been identified and 132 people have died.

The coronavirus family continues to introduce novel human pathogens of serious concern to global human health. Examples of coronaviruses can be found in a wide range of hosts including bats, rodents, birds, livestock, and even whales. This diversity in the range of hosts provides opportunities for the virus to travel and modify itself to become capable of infecting humans.

“Once again, this outbreak demonstrates the importance of the One Health approach: recognizing the delicate balance between animals and humans and the potential for spillover of animal disease into humans,” says Dr. Luca Popescu, MRIGlobal’s virologist and veterinarian.

MRIGlobal has become a leader in One Health, a principled approach that recognizes the health of people is connected to the health of animals, plants, and the environment. This most recent coronavirus outbreak is another example of the need to systematically understand One Health principles and apply them to limit these occurrences.  The officials in China, Asia-Pacific, and the U.S. are doing the best they can to understand the disease and to implement standard quarantines to prevent spread of the disease.

The MRIGlobal global health team has experience with a variety of aspects of the efforts directed to control and stop a disease like the new coronavirus. Our data scientists leverage the wealth of publicly available genomics data with innovative machine learning solutions to elucidate the biology that facilitates this jump to human pathogen. Our experience in disease surveillance has been used to develop advanced wet lab techniques.

This allows MRIGlobal to rapidly evaluate vaccine candidates, explore disease origin and host-pathogen interactions, and all other aspects of disease discovery. From our previous work in disease outbreaks including MERS and ebola along with relationships with global partners, we have insight into the unique obstacles of response, including the ability to deploy field forward laboratories with small footprint solutions such as Mercury lab. “Our teams are monitoring and reviewing new assays as they are being developed. We remain ready to assist if needed,” says Kent Lohman, MRIGlobal Principal Science Advisor.

“The speed of information sharing and scientific understanding of the virus remains a testament to what science can do in modern times,” says Gene Olinger, MRIGlobal virologist.

“The disease symptoms are similar to those caused by SARS — fever, cough, difficulty breathing,” says Dr. Matt Frieman a University of Maryland School of Medicine associate professor of microbiology and immunology and coronavirus expert. “Similar to other coronaviruses, the new virus spreads from human to human; case contact tracing will be key in stopping new cases.”

The CDC website www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html offers guidance for anyone who has traveled to Wuhan and is concerned about symptoms they are experiencing, and for those traveling to China and the Asia Pacific region.

3D Embedding of Coronavirus genomic data using a novel, alignment-free sequence analysis method developed by MRIGlobal called Vorpal. The red cluster at the center of the image is the 2019-nCOV group. Courtesy of Phil Davis, bioinformatics senior scientist.