Outbreak predicting study results revealed

The preliminary results of a study aimed at predicting the demonstrable outbreak of certain illnesses soon after initial exposure were announced this week at the 8th Annual Biodefense Vaccines & Therapeutics in Washington, D.C.

Colonel Geoffrey Ling, the program manager for the Defense Science Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, revealed the findingsin a presentation titled "Left of Disease: Technologies to Counter Infectious Diseases Prior to Illness."

Ling, who called his study a “success,” stated that the premise behind his work was that the “path to an outbreak begins at the sub-cellular level,” adding that, “If we knew what sub-cellular signatures led inexorably to demonstrating a disease, there would be potential to find out what a patient will be sick from,” and early treatment with medicine would be an option. “In early treatment we use a lower dose, and thereby expand our existing stockpile,” Ling said.

The study examined four viruses - respiratory syncytial virus, human rhinovirus, influenza and H1N1 influenza. Ling and his team infected a large number of subjects and then collected a series of “biomarkers,” mostly inflammations, that, when taken together, form a “unique bio-signature” for a virus’s existence in the human body.

After exposure, Ling and his team found that the unique bio-signatures were present in patients within hours. This meant his team could predict, with 80 to 90 percent confidence, which patients would show symptoms. Within days, the results rose to 90 to 100 percent for all of the tested viruses.

The “strength” of the study, Ling concluded, “was found in the mathematics.” Researchers from Duke University and Stanford University “compared the data sets with each other and saw how they changed over time,” leading to the conclusion that the four viruses shared 30 biomarkers in common, and all had fewer than five that were specifically unique.

The study will continue, but in its next iteration, it will focus on bacterial infections. “With sufficient beer and pizza,” Ling joked, “we have an entire dorm at Duke University ready to participate.”