Predicting and preventing pandemics is goal of new NSF awards
The potential for future pandemics is an ever-present and growing threat, whether they are due to known diseases like monkeypox or Ebola, or an as-yet-unknown infection. Nearly $26 million in new awards from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) will support interdisciplinary investigations and collaborations that aim to predict and prevent the next infectious disease outbreak, significantly contributing to national security, public health and economic stability.
The grants are part of NSF’s new Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention (PIPP) program, which supports high-risk, high-payoff convergent research that aims to identify, model, predict, track and mitigate the effects of future pandemics. The 26 new projects span the entire timeline of pandemic response, supporting data collection and analysis, creation of new sensors and predictive capabilities, methods for understanding impact and spread, processes to increase our ability to anticipate the role of human behavior and information sharing, and development of mitigation strategies and policy recommendations.
This research will transform our capabilities, scientists say, addressing what is needed to be adequately prepared for future responses as identified by the first annual report on implementation of the American Pandemic Preparedness Plan.
Several projects will incorporate the use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, cutting-edge modeling systems or the synthesis of open-source intelligence to forecast critical data. Specific awards will focus on families of viruses with the strong potential to create a pandemic, such as plant pathogens and influenza viruses, including bird flu. Others will concentrate on efforts in specific populations or areas, including rural and resource-limited locations, Indigenous communities, and cities.
Collaborative and innovative science and engineering research holds the keys to mitigating the impact of the next outbreak. NSF’s investments will support nearly 500 researchers in fields such as biology, epidemiology, geography, mathematics, statistics, chemistry, physics, computer science, nursing and medicine, health economics, sociology, anthropology, communications, psychology, and engineering. The investigators are located at nearly 50 institutions in 22 states and the District of Columbia, including six in Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) jurisdictions, three primarily undergraduate institutions and five minority-serving institutions.
The broader community and other stakeholders, including farmers, Indigenous peoples, policymakers and the public will be engaged through workshops, symposia and other events held by the researchers. Each project will also involve interdisciplinary education and training opportunities for a diverse set of students from kindergarten through the postdoctoral level.