Though decreasing its overall budget request for 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is making a priority of upgrading its tools for tracking infectious disease outbreaks.
It's requesting $40 million to develop the molecular-sequencing tools and bioinformatics capacity to more effectively track threats such as antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the H7N9 influenza that has killed 20 people in China.
"CDC needs next-generation diagnostics to find and stop killer microbes before they spread," Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., said, according to Government Health IT.
Similar high-throughput sequencing tools used for human gene sequencing have reduced the time to sequence a bacteria or virus from weeks or months to mere hours, according to the article. The technology, Frieden said, would help researchers to more quickly identify pathogens and determine their level of antibiotic resistance.
The $6.6 billion overall proposed budget would be $270 million less than the budget from fiscal year 2012. The $40 million aimed at updating state and national CDC informatics and genomics systems is part of $432 million to be spent on infectious disease monitoring and prevention.
Rapid whole-genome sequencing previously was used to help a UK hospital isolate a MRSA outbreak and track new infections to a single staff member in a special baby care unit. Sequencing identified 26 related cases, with transmission occurring not just among babies, but between the babies' mothers, their partners and other members of the community.
Additionally, researchers have developed a device that can track changes in bacteria at the genetic level as they develop resistance to antibiotics, according to a recent presentation at the 57th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society in Philadelphia. The device, called a "morbidostat," allowed the researchers to track changes in real time as the bacteria attempted to "outwit" antibiotics.
Social media also is turning up some interesting ways to track conditions such as flu. Johns Hopkins University computer scientists are among those scouring Twitter feeds to track flu outbreaks in real time.