June 20, 2008

Fellow to track respiratory viruses in Pakistan

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Syed Asad Ali, M.D.

Fellow to track respiratory viruses in Pakistan

Syed Asad Ali, M.D., a clinical fellow in Vanderbilt's Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease, has been awarded a grant to conduct respiratory viral surveillance in Pakistan.

The Global Research Initiative Program for New Foreign Investigators (GRIP) is funded by the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health.

It returns trained foreign investigators from developing nations to their home countries to stimulate research activity there and ultimately improve global health.

“The goal is to help bridge the knowledge and resource gap between developed and developing countries,” Ali said.

In September, Ali will begin investigating the burden of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza virus in children under age 5 in Karachi.

These viruses are believed to lead to lower respiratory tract infections, a major cause of infant mortality worldwide. With the burden determined, the focus can then shift to providing vaccines.

We hypothesize the burden will be huge,” Ali said. “With vaccines, there is the potential to really make a difference if we apply our knowledge correctly.”

According to Ali, very little is known about what disease agents cause lower respiratory tract infections in developing countries, but there is currently a major global push to find the cause. This work is especially timely due to the anticipated release of an RSV vaccine.

Ali is optimistic that the vaccine will be available soon and said, “We need to be ready.”

The grant offers $50,000 of funding per year for five years. In this first year, Ali plans to establish a viral diagnostic lab at Aga Khan University that uses the latest technology, which he says will provide a “big edge” to the work.

In years two and three, children in the two major hospitals in Karachi will be tested to determine the inpatient burden. In the final years, the outpatient burden will be determined by testing children in the Bilal Colony, an urban slum.

“If you want to find the true burden, you must do this community-based research,” Ali said.

“Testing only in the hospitals will underestimate the burden because most deaths occur at home because the hospital is too far away or they can't afford the hospital.”

Ali was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and received his M.D. at Aga Khan University. He then came to the United States for his residency at Duke University and moved to Vanderbilt for his fellowship.

Ali's research will also draw on skills gained in the Master of Public Health Program.

Although he has accepted a position at his alma mater in Karachi, Ali will continue to work with his mentors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Kathryn Edwards, M.D., Sten Vermund, M.D., and John Williams, M.D.

“My vision was collaboration, and hopefully this is only the beginning,” Ali said.