Life Technologies has established the Global Influenza Network, a partnership including scientists at a number of government public health organizations, veterinary agencies, and research institutes. The aim is to increase the speed and efficiency of influenza monitoring and vaccine development. Members of the network are sharing tools, experience, and data using the Ion Personal Genome Machine semiconductor sequencing platform, according to the company.
"Life Technologies exhibited leadership in infectious disease tracking when our scientists worked alongside federal officials to identify the cause of H1N1 outbreak in 2008," explained Greg Lucier, chairman and CEO of Life Technologies. "We are very proud to now bring together a group of such distinguished organizations to tackle the continued threat of influenza worldwide."
Participating scientists include Steve Glavas, head of the NGS Platform, and Mia Brytting, Ph.D., head of the microbial typing unit at the Swedish Institute for Communicable Disease Control (SMI); Gabriele Vaccari, Ph.D., researcher at the Istituto Superiore di Sanita in Rome; Mary Lea Killian, microbiologist at the U.S. National Veterinary Service Laboratories in Ames, Iowa; and David Wentworth at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, MD.
Annual seasonal influenza epidemics cause approximately three to five million cases of severe illness and 250,000 to 500,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Pandemics caused by novel influenza strains can result in staggering death tolls; the "Spanish flu" of 1918 is believed to have killed 40 million people, or three percent of the global population, reports the WHO.
Each year, public health agencies around the world collect samples from infected individuals and share data about flu subtypes circulating in their regions. The pooled data are used by the WHO to determine the strains used to design a vaccine that will be effective against that year's epidemic. Costs of sequencing, however, have limited data set to about 20% of the patient samples collected.
"Using next-generation sequencing technology makes whole influenza genome sequencing much easier, and much less expensive than older sequencing techniques, when used appropriately," said Glavas.
Scientists in the Global Influenza Network also believe that by sequencing all patient samples collected ahead of the flu season, they will be able to detect emerging strains earlier and focus resources on areas of the world where these strains are most prevalent in order to better contain new threats. "Now we can easily fully characterize influenza-causing severe outbreaks," said Brytting.