Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

System to Help Create Database for Malaria

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

System to Help Create Database for Malaria

Article excerpt

Reducing the world impact of malaria, which infects 200 million and kills 600,000 people each year -- and mostly African children under the age of 5 -- remains a research and policy riddle.

One major problem is the massive amount of unorganized information and data about the infectious disease caused by a parasite that is spread by mosquito bites.

But now the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and University of Notre Dame are coming to the rescue in a project to download the oceans of data into a cluster of computers that are programmed to organize data, analyze them and provide a user-friendly means to ask questions, develop strategies and mount an efficient, cost- effective strategy to reduce malaria's alarming death toll.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a grant of up to $1.6 million to create the computer system for its Vector Ecology and Control Network, or VECNet, which the foundation describes as its international consortium to eradicate malaria. The grant will create the new VECNet Cyber-Infrastructure Network to unite research and industrial and public policy efforts in an effort "to attack one of the worst diseases in the developing world in more effective, economic ways."

Researchers, companies and governments have produced vast research focused on the malaria epidemic affecting 104 nations, mostly impoverished tropical or equatorial nations, with the majority of cases in Africa. An effective strategy demands coordination of all the information and research, including details of the 40 to 50 mosquitoes that spread malaria; the climate, weather and environmental factors of nations prone to malaria; and characteristics of malarial parasites capable of evolving to hide from the immune system or malarial treatments.

Add to that information the many pesticides to control mosquitoes, the antibiotic drugs used to treat the quickly resistant malaria strains, and details about the methods and strategies to reduce malaria's impact. The ultimate goal is worldwide eradication of the disease.

"VECNet is about bringing order out of chaos," Tom Burkot, VECNet's principal investigator and professor and tropical leader at James Cook University, Australia, said in a news release. …

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