The SEER Lab has a number of ongoing extramurally funded research projects. The lab has a wide-reaching network of collaborators, both national and international. Through the collaborations, SEER Lab provides research capacity in GIS, ecological niche modeling, pathogen/disease surveillance, spatio-temporal modeling, and pathogen phylogenetics/phylogeography. SEER Lab projects are integrative and interdisciplinary by design and leverage tool sets from our own personnel and our collaborators to address complex questions focused on infectious disease distributions, pathogen ecology, pathogen persistence, and zoonosis risk. As you will see across these projects, we focus on pathogens that have wildlife or livestock reservoirs or have environmental reservoirs that might sustain the pathogen in periods of limit epidemics or epizootics.
Defense Threat Reduction Agency/Joint University Partnership
Dr. Blackburn has been a U.S. Collaborator and GIS lead on a number of projects across the former Soviet Union countries of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. We have worked in Azerbaijan 2008 – present, Georgia 2009 – present, Kazakhstan 2004 – present, Ukraine 2008 – present, and Uzbekistan 2006 -2009. We are funded through the University of New Mexico’s Joint University Partnership with DTRA and we serve two primary roles. First, we provide GIS and spatial analysis training for partner countries, primarily human health labs through local Ministries of Health and veterinary labs through Ministries of Agriculture or equivalents. These training efforts include basic through advanced GIS training, open source software training, and study design for spatial epidemiological studies. Our second primary role is to provide research support and collaboration on projects focused on the ecology, epidemiology, and molecular evolution of select agent pathogens. Broadly our research goal can be defined as providing partners with GIS-based methodologies for mapping and modeling disease baselines. For many bacterial zoonoses, particularly those listed as Select Agent or Dual Use, baseline estimates are difficult to derive, especially at local scales where surveillance and or control strategies are most likely to be effective. Toward this, we work with in-country partners to develop historical records of reported cases of zoonoses in both human and animal populations. These data are then use to construct a variety of models, including spatio-temporal (e.g. CUSUM), ecological niche (e.g. GARP, MaxEnt), spatial clustering techniques (e.g. Ripley’s K) and logistic regression-based risk models. The goal of these efforts are to provide high resolution, accurate spatial predictions of where diseases are clustering and or/persisting. These data can then be used to inform local public and veterinary health efforts to survey and control these diseases.
CRDF Global/US State Department
SEER Lab collaborates with Kyrgyz Consortium for GIS Excellence (KCGE) and the Kyrgyz Institute of Biotechnology (IBT) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to improve spatial skills in public and veterinary health. In 2006, Dr. Blackburn and Dr. Akylbek Chymyrov (KCGE Director) co-founded the KCGE at the Kyrgyz State University for Construction, Transportation and Architecture to promote GIS and GIScience across the country. Through CRDF Global funding, we established a state-of-the-art GIS Lab at the University and KCGE was setup as a working consortium to invite and maintain membership across public and veterinary health and associated basic science departments and agencies across Kyrgyzstan. In this most recent project, we are collaborating with the KCGE to provide monthly GIS workshops for KCGE members in Bishkek (managed by Dr. Chymyrov). Additionally, our current project has a research component to co-develop ecological niche models of Bacillus anthracis and spatio-temporal analyses of anthrax outbreaks across the country with Dr. Asandkadyr Zhunushov, Associate Director of the IBT. This project will provide this first niche-based spatial predictions of this pathogen in Kyrgyzstan to inform veterinary health decision making.
NIH/MIDAS with Virginia Tech
SEER Lab collaborates with Drs. Kathy Alexander and Steven Eubank of Virginia Tech on a project to model the spatio-temporal patterns of Cholera in Haiti and develop ecological niche models of environments that might support the survival of the cholera-causing pathogen in Haiti. This disease has been absent from Haiti for at least 100 years, if it has ever been there at all. In the wake of the 2010 earthquake, the cholera epidemic of 2010-2011 was one of the largest in the world for at least several decades. SEER Lab will develop the spatio-temporal models of household-level diarrhea with local NGOs and other ongoing EPI cholera projects. We will also develop the ecological niche models of Vibrio to determine best estimates of where the pathogen may be persisting.
NSF Coupled Natural Systems Grant
Dr. Blackburn is a Co-PI on a CNS grant with Dr. Kathy Alexander at Virginia Tech looking at the coupled dynamics of pathogen transport and disease transmission pathways between humans and wildlife in the Chobe National Park and surrounding human communities in northeast Bostwana. Our goal is to understand the mechanisms that couple human and animal health in the human communities and wildlife populations in the area. As a land-locked country in Southern Africa, water scarcity is a reality and predicted to worsen under several of the climate change prediction models. This part of Botswana is heavily dependent on the Chobe/Kwando River system for water and that is true for both the human and animal populations. Our study design is to test water samples, animal and human fecal samples from the environment for E. coli. We then use genetic markers and drug resistance patterns to link the same E. coli from animal and human samples. These samples are mapped along transects to relate the spatial patterns of results back to the context of human and animal land use and seasonality. To date, we have developed databases on human diarrhea for the study area and linked those patterns to environmental drivers. We have also developed spatio-temporal databases of wildlife distributions and related those to human population centers. We have now run terrestrial and river transects across several seasons, including wet and dry and Dr. Alexander’s Animal Health Lab is performing the laboratory analyses on E. coli. You can follow our project progress at the project blog.
Our work together has also lead to the publication of an important paper on bush meat and the risk of brucellosis in this same area.
Dr. Blackburn also works closely with Dr. Alexander on studying the spatio-temporal and ecological patterns of anthrax in Chobe National Park over the last decade.
Drs. Mullins (Medical Geography PhD 2013) and Blackburn completed a DDRI project with Dr. Matthew Van Ert (EPI/SEER Lab Adjunct Faculty) focused on the local evolution of Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax. We were interested in the relationship between local transmission dynamics within wildlife outbreaks.