Chan, Zuckerberg and the Gates Foundation unveil open-source global infectious disease tracker

IDseq aims to provide a dashboard of real-time pathogen detection around the world. (Pixabay)

The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, a non-profit research organization formed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, has unveiled an open-source platform for charting international infectious disease outbreaks in real-time.

The cloud-based system, dubbed IDseq, analyzes metagenomic data to identify samples of bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites, and produces a report detailing trends spotted in labs and clinics elsewhere in the world.

“The global health community needs the ability to share data quickly to track outbreaks or emerging diseases,” said Biohub Co-President Joseph DeRisi, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco.

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“With IDseq, we hope to empower data-driven decisions about how to better manage antibiotics, where to prioritize immunization campaigns, how to shape vector control and surveillance efforts,” DeRisi said.

In conjunction, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would fund global health workers’ use of IDseq, and would help provide training, equipment and supplies to certain awardees through its Grand Challenges Explorations Initiative.

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Currently, IDseq is going through a “soft launch,” with its services slated to be available to Biohub and CZI partner organizations within the next year, before allowing broader access. The software itself, however, is open-source and freely available.

In a recent pilot, physicians in Dhaka, Bangladesh, used IDseq to identify a mosquito-borne viral infection in the spinal fluid of patients at the largest pediatric hospital in the country. They then used follow-up testing to identify additional cases of the chikungunya infection from the same period, which were previously undiagnosed.

“It was eye-opening,” said the Child Health Research Foundation’s Senjuti Saha. “Chikungunya was previously thought to be neuroinvasive only in very rare instances. But the data from IDseq suggested otherwise—it helped shed light on what were otherwise mysterious brain infections.”

In 2016, Chan and Zuckerberg pledged to invest around $3 billion over a decade into projects aimed at curing or managing “all disease within our children’s lifetime,” including at least $600 million for the Biohub.