In 2006, Dr. Larry Brilliant - Google.org's Chief Philanthropic Evangelist - won the prestigious TED Prize. He delivered a powerful talk that highlighted the risk of a devastating future pandemic, and described one of his big ideas for combating the threat. His mantra of 'Early Detection, Early Response' inspired other groups such as InSTEDD, who recently launched a suite of open-source applications to allow collaboration between first responders during disease outbreaks and disasters, and the team behind Google Flu Trends.
Now, this important theme has been revisited at TED by Dr. Nathan Wolfe, founder of the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative (GVFI), a new non-profit funded by Google.org and the Skoll Foundation. Dr Wolfe's rousing message is that when it comes to pandemics, early detection in humans isn't early enough. We know that 75% of new human diseases begin in animals – so to discover a pandemic before it devastates the human population, we need to catch new viruses when they take the very first leap from animals into humans.
This mission has taken the GVFI team into some remote and difficult locations, from the jungles of Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (profiled on CNN's Planet in Peril), to the wet markets of China and Malaysia. Here, they collect blood samples from animals and the humans with whom they're in contact, in order to analyse them for evidence of early viral crossover.
You can hear more about this important work and some of GVFI's exciting viral discoveries by watching Dr Wolfe's talk at TED. Pass this on, and help spread ideas, not diseases!