A large European Union (EU) project called COMPARE intends to speed up the detection of and response to disease outbreaks among humans and animals worldwide through the use of new genome technology.
The aim is to reduce the impact and cost of disease outbreaks.
To that end 28 European partners, including the Technical University of Denmark, have received more than €20 million (US$23.2 million) in funding from the EU.
The health of humans and animals around the world is increasingly under threat due to new and recurring epidemics and foodborne disease outbreaks, which place pressure on health services and the production of livestock.
These epidemics also reduce consumer confidence in food and negatively impact trade and food security.
The longer it takes from the start of an outbreak of for example Ebola, influenza or salmonella until it is detected and stopped, the greater the consequences.
The most important factor in being able to limit the consequences and costs of such outbreaks is the ability to quickly identify the disease-causing microorganisms that are causing the disease.
Secondly, there is the need for knowledge about the mechanisms that cause the disease, and how the bacteria are transmitted to and between humans.
Use of genome sequencing
The research project aims to develop a global platform that will make it possible to quickly identify disease-causing microorganisms which cause or have the potential to cause disease outbreaks around the world.
It makes use of whole genome sequencing, in which a disease-causing microorganism’s whole deoxyribonucleic acid-profile is mapped out at one time.
“The platform we are going to create in this project will make it possible in real time to exchange and interpret information about disease-causing microorganisms from around the world and to compare this with other relevant information such as clinical and epidemiological data,” professor Frank Møller Aarestrup from the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark explains.
“The aim is that the platform can be used to harmonise the way scientists, authorities, doctors and organisations around the world collect samples, generate genome sequencing data and carry out risk assessments.”
“This new approach to disease surveillance will be able to revolutionise the way we combat diseases globally,” he says.
Building on the One Health approach
Zoonoses – diseases that can spread from animals and food to humans – are the cause of many epidemics internationally.
For this reason COMPARE is based on a collaboration across sectors and land borders.
The project will also develop tools that can be used to diagnose and treat patients, investigate outbreaks and communicate the risks associated with various disease-causing microorganisms.