Across Disciplines, around the Globe
New Global Health Institute
The world’s most urgent health challenges are the focus of Emory’s new Global Health Institute, a cross-disciplinary initiative. Much of the institute’s work will target developing countries crippled by diseases of poverty. HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, the “big three,” account for 5.6 million deaths per year, but myriad other illnesses afflict the poor the world over—and no less varied are the social, biological, and political underpinnings of their spread.
Under the leadership of Jeffrey Koplan, Emory vice president for academic health affairs and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Global Health Institute will draw on expertise, programs, and resources from all corners of the campus.
“We want to take these already very strong programs in global health and, recognizing their importance in the context of the University and the world at large, move them into a position of preeminence,” says Koplan.
The Center for Global Vaccines, for instance, is a collaborative undertaking with the Emory Vaccine Center and the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi, India. As one of India’s premier research sites, the center is working on a problem at the heart of the nation’s exploding HIV pandemic: the synergistic interaction of the virus with tuberculosis (TB). Emory brings a world-renowned expert to the effort in Rafi Ahmed, director of the Emory Vaccine Center.
“In terms of sheer numbers,” Ahmed says, “India now has the largest number of HIV-infected people in the world, and 5.7 million of them have the HIV-TB coinfection.” TB is endemic in India, and most people get primary TB as children, which is generally latent throughout their lives. But once infected with HIV, Ahmed adds, the immune system becomes compromised and the TB reactivates. The goal of the partnership is to come up with a new, therapeutic vaccine that can be given to this highly vulnerable population.
Another initiative involves the Republic of South Africa Drug Discovery Training Program, which will give African scientists the tools to combat these diseases in their own countries. At the helm of the program is Emory’s Dennis Liotta, professor of chemistry and coinventor of several of the most widely used anti-HIV/AIDS drugs. “The transfer of money and technology isn’t enough,” says Liotta. “It’s expertise in the discovery and development of new medicines that is the intrinsic requirement.”
Pharmaceutical companies are beginning to spring up in South Africa, says Liotta, which bodes well for a training program. And the South African government has agreed to offer incentives to biotechnology companies, with the hope that once scientists graduate from the program, they’ll have an opportunity to take leadership roles in their own country.
In addition to launching new programs, the Global Health Institute will build on existing ones. For the past five years, the Instituto de Salud Publica in Cuernavaca, Mexico, has collaborated with the Rollins School of Public Health to tackle issues of malnutrition, infectious diseases, environmental health, and child and maternal health. But with the advent of the Global Health Institute, new funds are enabling that partnership—dubbed Partners in Global Health—to expand, encompassing the social sciences as well.
Reynoldo Martorell, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of International Nutrition and director of the program in Cuernavaca, is collaborating with Professor of Anthropology Peter Brown, codirector of the Center for Health, Culture, and Society, to explore opportunities for including Emory College. Such cross-disciplinary collaboration is critical to the objectives of the institute.—Pat Adams 08MPH.