a scientist in a coat and gloves scans vials
Category: Health Magazine, Winter 2023

Title:Georgetown researches pandemic preparedness

Author: By Kate Colwell, Karen Teber, and Lauren Wolkoff
Date Published: December 1, 2022

Georgetown has won $12.5 million from the National Science Foundation to lead a global team of scientists in establishing a collaborative institute designed to advance research and education around viral emergence—the process of viruses jumping from animals to humans.

The Verena (Viral Emergence Research Initiative) Biology Integration Institute, based at Georgetown’s Center for Global Health Science and Security (GHSS), aims to advance a cross-disciplinary research agenda that targets significant sources of emerging infectious diseases. The collaboration will also train scientists at all career stages in the science of the host-virus network, as well as core scientific skills in data fluency and boundary spanning, creating the next generation of viral emergence-focused researchers.

“The days of ‘quiet periods’ between epidemics are over— from this point on, we’re headed from COVID-19 straight into monkeypox, into the next public health crisis,” says Assistant Professor Colin Carlson, Ph.D., director of the Institute and co-founder of Verena. “Our goal is to build the data and tools we need to know what’s coming tomorrow—and maybe, actually, be ready next time.”

Carlson and four additional co-investigators from the University of Oklahoma, Washington State University, and the University of Florida will lead the institute’s workstreams. Cynthia Wei, Ph.D., an associate teaching professor in the Walsh School of Foreign Service, will lead training and education. The institute also includes nine senior researchers.

“This is an incredibly exciting award, and we anticipate the work will be transformative to the entire field,” says GHSS Director Rebecca Katz, Ph.D., who serves as chair of Verena’s Science-Policy Advisory Board.

Katz is also the creator of Georgetown’s How to End a Pandemic course in which students imagine their own roles in ending a hypothetical future pandemic. Katz invited pandemic response experts representing diverse industries and communities—including representatives from governments, tribal nations, corporations, international NGOs, nonprofits, and media outlets—to share their insights with her students.

“It’s fascinating to see how people from so many different sectors are all focused on this one problem,” Katz says. “The whole point is that it’s all about many, many parts adding up to a larger whole.”

Class recordings of the experts’ remarks are now available at ghss.georgetown.edu/oral-histories—a resource that Katz hopes will serve as a springboard for a crowdsourced oral history of the pandemic. The oral history project captures stories from the front lines of people engaged in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and the steps they have taken to mitigate the impacts of the virus.

“There is a real interest in capturing these stories and not missing this opportunity,” Katz says.

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