Exploring new pathogens of infectious childhood illnesses

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Exploring new pathogens of infectious childhood illnesses

Faculty at Aga Khan University have secured a Grand Challenges Explorations grant – funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative – aimed at spurring innovation in the diagnosis and treatment of novel strains causing infectious diseases in newborns.

The grant will support a project Metagenomics for Discovery of Novel Pathogens in Infectious Childhood Illnesses that seeks to generate new insights that will contribute to efforts to end preventable newborn deaths by 2030: a target under goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Pakistan has the highest rate of neonatal deaths in the world with about one in four deaths occurring due to infections, according to the World Health Organization. The project will see Dr. Muhammad Imran Nisar, assistant professor and clinical research director in the department of paediatrics and child health at AKU, and his team deploy metagenomics sequencing. Metagenomics analysis breaks up the DNA of bacteria into a ‘genomic soup’ which a computer sequences and separates into categories that highlight the source and virulence of strains of disease-causing pathogens.

“You cannot fight an enemy that you cannot see,” said Dr. Nisar. “Existing diagnostic tests cannot detect emerging pathogens and this study will help us to improve specificity of treatment in newborn infections as well as explore and begin to tackle the problem of antimicrobial resistance which is a global public health challenge.”

Dr. Nisar began his career as a researcher on the ANISA study, the largest study of neonatal infections in South Asia to date. His latest project will apply metagenomics sequencing to archived samples from the ANISA study as well as new samples obtained from peri-urban sites in Karachi, Pakistan. Findings will then be correlated with sequences on the global IDSeq online platform which contains data on pathogens from around the world

The Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2008. Over 1420 projects in more than 65 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. Dr Nisar’ s project** is one of approximately 50 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 22 grants announced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation out of 1,700 applications.