Host switching pathogens, infectious outbreaks and zoonosis: A Marie Skłodowska-Curie innovative training network (HONOURs)
The increase of the human population is accompanied by growing numbers of livestock to feed this population, as well as by an increase of human invasion into natural habitats of wild animals. As a result, both animals and humans are becoming progressively vulnerable to infections with known (zoonotic) pathogens, but are also increasingly exposed to novel viruses. Global trade as well as climate changes can contribute to pathogen transmission, e.g. through import of infected vectors or expansion of habitats for arthropod vectors such as mosquitoes and midges. Infectious disease outbreaks, especially those by novel viruses, are generally unexpected, and therefore we should be prepared with tools and abilities for immediate action, including the identification of the causative agent, the evaluation of its pathogenic potential for animals and humans, and the fast development of diagnostic assays to allow contact tracing and quarantine measures. HONOURs is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Innovative Training Network (MSCA-ITN), teaching 15 talented young researchers to become “preparedness-experts”. HONOURs, initiated in April 2017, involves 11 laboratories from 6 different European countries, all at the forefront of novel virus investigations and characterizations. The network includes surveillance experts in both the veterinary and the human health sector, who have developed and utilize highly sensitive virus discovery techniques, e.g. next generation sequencing based genomics and universal primers based PCR, to allow identification and characterization of novel viruses. Production of pure viral proteins, providing high-resolution structures, aids in the design of novel, fast and easy-to-use diagnostics. Organotypic in vitro cell cultures systems (e.g. pseudostratified human airway epithelia) provide tools for virus replication, if needed via a reverse genetics platform, and the production of virus stocks permits inoculation in animal models to examine disease, evaluate candidate vaccines, and fulfilment of the Koch’s postulates. Scientists of the various institutes will provide training in the HONOURs network through specialized courses and workshops, combined with challenging research projects. The final aim of the network is to deliver 15 expert scientists, ready to act in case of the emergence of an epidemic.