Bryan Grenfell 2011 AAAS Fellow

Bryan GrenfellBryan Grenfell, VMI Co-PI and Princeton professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs, has been selected by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as one of six Princeton professors as a fellow for 2011. Dr. Grenfell is being honored for his contributions in epidemiology and exploring the dynamics of disease. All 2011 fellows will be recognized at the AAAS Annual Meeting on February 18 in Vancouver, Canada.


Pitt VMI Partners with Institute of Research for Development

IRD logoThe VMI at the University of Pittsburgh is pleased to announce they have finalized agreements with the Institute of Research for Development (IRD) to collect and digitize dengue surveillance data in Vietnam and Laos. This collaboration will continue through March 2012.

The IRD, based in Montpellier, France, is a unique institution in European research for development. Its task is to conduct research in low- and middle income Southern countries. Their research focuses on issues of major global importance: global warming, emerging diseases, biodiversity, access to water, migration, poverty, world hunger. The teaching and training they provide empowers and enables Southern scientific communities.


Taiwan Minister of Health Visits Pitt’s School of Public Health

Dr. Wen-Ta ChiuDr. Wen-Ta Chiu, Taiwan’s Minister of Health, visited the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) on August 25-26, 2011. Dr. Chiu, who served as president of the Taipei Medical University from 2008-2011, became the Minister of Health for Taiwan in February 2011.

The Chiu family represents three generations of GSPH graduates: Wen-Ta Chiu obtained his master’s in public health in1987 and doctorate in epidemiology in 1989; Yung-Tsong Chiu, his father, graduated in 1954, and Jason Chiu, his son, graduated in 2010. In 1999, Chiu was recognized by GSPH as one of the 50 most influential faculty members or students in the school’s history and in 2009 was awarded the University’s Legacy Laureate.

Dr. Chiu VisitDuring his recent visit, Dr. Chiu met with VMI investigators Donald Burke, John Grefenstette, and Bruce Lee to discuss ongoing research at the GSPH, including the modeling efforts of the VMI. Dr. Chiu expressed great interest in future research collaborations. “It was a great pleasure to meet with Minister Chiu and his party, and we look forward to exploring the areas of possible collaborations that arose during our discussions,” said John Grefenstette, Director of the Public Health Dynamics Laboratory at the GSPH. “Minister Chiu is not only an outstanding leader in public health and an honored alum, he is a true friend of Pitt and GSPH,” said Don Burke, Dean of the GSPH.

“Contagion”: Pure Hollywood fiction?

Donald BurkeWhat does the movie Contagion have to teach us about infectious diseases and public health preparedness? It’s easy to dismiss it as another “could-it-really-happen?” science thriller. People getting sick with a deadly global virus and teams from the CDC and WHO scrambling to solve the crisis. However, according to Donald Burke, dean of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, “It was just like the movie I would make.” In fact, following a special screening earlier this week, Dr. Burke was eager to begin work on a computer model of the fictional disease.

In general, Burke said the filmmakers got much of the science right and did a good job of showing the process of deciding how to make a vaccine, the molecular biology. One of the misses in the film was in the scene where a lesson is delivered to explain how the speed of infection can be measured. A key factor is the R-naught, which refers to the number of persons who will become sick after coming into contact with an infected individual. A key part not included in this lesson is how long it takes for it to go from one person to another. In the movie, the mystery disease displays an unrealistic speed of transmission. Another miss was how quickly a vaccine is discovered, tested and distributed. The U.S. does not have facilities to make vaccines that fast.

Another expert, Kamran Khan, an infectious-disease physician and scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and an associate professor at the University of Toronto, also believes the move isn’t far-fetched at all. Dr. Khan and his colleagues have been working on developing innovative ways of detecting potential pandemics and tracking the spread of infectious disease. One of his colleagues, John Brownstein, an epidemiologist based at Children’s Hospital Boston, has created HealthMap, a website and mobile application that constantly searches the Internet for signs of emerging disease outbreaks. HealthMap is featured on a Contagion tie-in website designed to raise awareness about the importance of vaccination and the potential dangers of pandemics and infectious disease.

Burke says “Even though this was just a movie, and an apocalyptic movie at that, we dodged a bullet with SARS. In fact, if that had been just a bit more transmissible, it could have ended up like [Contagion].”

As for the rest of the film, well, that’s Hollywood. But hopefully the movie will increase awareness of the potential dangers that come with living in a globalized society and generates discussion on ways to reduce the risks of spreading infectious diseases.

Donald S. Burke Honored as Distinguished University Professor

A distinguished University professorship recognizes eminence in several fields of study, transcending accomplishments in and contributions to a single discipline. Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg made the appointment, effective July 1, based on the recommendations of Pitt Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Patricia E. Beeson.

Donald S. Burke, MD, is the inaugural University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Jonas Salk Professor of Global Health and the GSPH dean. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on the prevention, diagnosis, and control of infectious diseases of global concern, including HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis A, avian influenza, and emerging infectious diseases.

In addition to holding a named professorship and serving as dean of GSPH, Burke is director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Vaccine Research and serves in the newly established position of associate vice chancellor for global health, health sciences. In 2009, he was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, one of the highest honors in health and medicine.

Before joining the University of Pittsburgh, Burke was a professor in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where he served as associate chair of the Department of International Health and director of the Center for Immunization Research. He also was principal investigator of National Institutes of Health-supported research projects on HIV vaccines, biodefense, and emerging infectious diseases.

Prior to his tenure at Johns Hopkins, Burke served 23 years on active duty in the U.S. Army, leading military infectious disease research at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C., and at the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences in Bangkok, Thailand. He retired at the rank of colonel.

Burke’s career-long mission has been prevention and mitigation of the impact of epidemic infectious diseases of global importance. His research activities have spanned a wide range of science “from the bench to the bush,” including development of new diagnostics, population-based field studies, clinical vaccine trials, computational modeling of epidemic control strategies, and policy analysis. He has authored or coauthored more than 200 research reports. Burke earned his MD from Harvard Medical School in 1971 and his BA degree from Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) in 1967.

Tycho Data Reports Distributed to State Epidemiologists

Following the presentation of the Tycho database by Dr. Donald Burke, Dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health at the 2011 Annual CSTE Meeting in Pittsburgh, data reports were distributed to state epidemiologists. For each state these reports summarize the data entered from all weekly US Nationally Notifiable Disease Surveillance Reports in the Tycho database. For each disease, previews of historic trends at state and city levels have been included. These reports were also distributed via email and can be downloaded from the Tycho website documentation section.

These reports are meant to be preliminary previews of data availability for each state and follow-up with each state health office will be conducted to correct any errors and interpret disease trends.


Tycho Database Released for Beta Testing

The Tycho database was presented by Dr. Donald Burke, Dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health during a plenary session at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) in Pittsburgh. During this meeting, the Tycho database was released to an invited user group for beta testing. This group includes all state epidemiologists, CDC surveillance staff, other federal partners and research collaborators.

The Tycho database has been developed by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and is named after Tycho Brahe. This database contains the entire history of the weekly US Nationally Notifiable Disease Surveillance System in computable form and currently contains all weekly disease reports between 1888 and 2009 for 50 states, 6 overseas territories and over 1500 cities and towns. This database was developed as a central access point to disaggregated public health data from around the world and an open access release of the first version is planned for the fall of 2011.


VMI Annual Meeting

Our thanks to Bryan Grenfell, VMI Co-PI, for hosting the 23-24 June 2011 VMI Investigators and Strategy Committee meetings at Princeton University. Among the attendees were the VMI PI, Donald Burke (University of Pittsburgh), VMI Co-PIs, Neil Ferguson (Imperial College London) and Bryan Grenfell (Princeton University), and Steven Buchsbaum, the BMGF program officer. David Heymann (Health Protection Agency) will chair the Strategy Committee meeting with advisors Nancy Cox (CDC), Stanley Plotkin (Vaxconsult), Diane Griffin (Johns Hopkins University) and Michel Zaffran (WHO/PATH Optimize).

The Investigators meeting on 23 June included scientific presentations in the areas of malaria, dengue, measles, rubella, polio, influenza, rotavirus, vaccine supply chain and open access to public health data. The Strategy Committee meeting on 24 June included discussions on scientific issues in several of these areas as well as recommendations from the Committee for the future. .

Download Agenda

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