Solutions Inspired Through Dialogue
Our mission is to combine medical, scientific and technology skill-sets to discover new approaches to combat infectious disease outbreaks. We do this by listening to both patients and their healthcare providers to better prioritize problems and reveal unanticipated durable solutions.
We chose cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh and Haiti as a model system for several reasons: (i) proof of principle against a pathogen like Vibrio cholerae that kills swiftly and inflicts disproportionate harm on the extreme poor will have broad impact; (ii) cholera can be clinically diagnosed and prompt administration of low cost oral rehydration solution can drop deaths from 20 percent to less than 1 percent; and (iii) despite limited historical success, new tools and opportunities are coming together that inspire optimism for effective and rapid outbreak control in the future. To help craft these new tools we partner with international teams to critically evaluate current clinical methods, develop new methods that address old weaknesses, and design better vehicles to deliver these tools to providers.
We face the challenge that on a daily basis patients present to remote hospitals with primary infections that are impacted by complex secondary host, microbial, and environmental factors. Methods to reproduce these factors in the laboratory, or effectively study them in the field, are lacking. These problems are critical barriers to make evidence-based clinical decisions and to conduct high-impact translational research, especially during outbreak response. We have partnerships and laboratory capacity in Bangladesh, Africa and Haiti to build bi-directional capacity to address these basic science challenges.
Technology tested in developed countries often fail in remote settings that are commonly struck by outbreaks. We have developed a platform called Outbreak Responder that accommodates for several limitations of existing tools, including mapping in locations with no addresses, registration of patients that have shared or unstructured names and also lack a national ID number, and offline team-based data collection.
Meet the Team
Principal Investigator – Eric Nelson, MD, PhD
I consider myself an ecologist at heart who just happens to work with humans (I am a pediatrician). I was inspired by reading Stephen J Gould to better understand the relationship between hosts, pathogens, and the environment through the lens of evolutionary biology. This set me on a journey that has included studying clownfish, salmon, squids, mice and of course, humans. Many of the failures to eliminate diseases, or at least control them or their drug resistances, stem from a failure to appreciate the ecologic context. For these reasons, I prioritize an ecologist’s approach at each step in the journey. I also try to avoid bias by diversifying our teams’ skill-set (wet-lab, dry-lab, and technology) so that we approach complex pathogen transmission puzzles with balanced experimental design. Lastly, I want to have fun. I enjoy what I do because I work with smart, creative, and dedicated colleagues both in the US and internationally. I am confident that what we are doing is contributing to a global effort to help those that face extreme inequity.
Lab Manager – Patricia Rodriguez
Hi there, my name is Patricia Rodriguez. I recently graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in Microbiology and Cell Science. My goal is to pursue further education in global health and eventually attend medical school. In Dr. Nelson’s lab, I split my time between wet-lab procedures and lab manager duties. I am really excited to be a part of the Nelson team and I can’t wait to embark on this cholerific journey!
Administrative Manager – Marissa Gaddy
My name is Marissa and I work as an administrative/ financial assistant to Dr. Eric Nelson and his lab. I am a graduate of the University of Florida with degrees in Family, Youth and Community Science and African American studies. I am excited about the work that the Nelson lab is doing because it will improve the quality of life for children and families.
Graduate Research Assistant – Ashton Creasy
I have always had a passion for infectious disease and its impacts on all aspects of human health. After being awarded my B.A. in Biology in 2011 from UNCW, I entered the pharmaceutical industry by means of microbiological quality control laboratories. There, I learned about my indirect role in public health and felt it was my duty to protect the immunocompromised from potential pathogens. Seeking a more direct impact, I left industry to pursue a graduate education at the University of Florida. In the Nelson lab, I am able to not only grow as a scientist, but also apply my investigative and wet lab skills learned in industry to substantial, impactful research. I truly believe our research will positively impact current and future populations and I am excited and motivated to be apart of the process.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Characterization of cholera transmission in Cameroon and Tanzania.
International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh
Principal Investigator of cluster randomized controlled trial of Outbreak Responder during cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh.