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Pandemic Viral Infection in the Era of Global Climate Change

Dr. David Ying Chien shared his view on the associations between climate change and pandemic viral infection.

Dr. David Ying Chien shared his view on the associations between climate change and pandemic viral infection.

The possibility of pandemics has increased over the past century due to intense global changes including urbanization, land use and climate. Since these trends are likely to intensify, a pandemic is considered a serious subject in public health that can potentially pose a great threat to the human race. Dr. David Ying Chien, the founder and CEO of YingTech Bioscience Consulting Company, recently shared his insight on this issue during a speech at ITRI.

In Dr. Chien’s opening remarks, he stated that pandemic tragedy is a clear and present danger, and that the question is not if it will happen, but when, and how. He further pointed out that climate change is an important indicator for the growing chance of a global pandemic. Dr. Chien explained that human activities such as burning fossil fuels that releases CO2 pollution and livestock farming that produces methane gas all contribute to global warming and alter the ecosystem. This consequently increases the chance of virus occurrence and the distribution of epidemic diseases. In addition, extreme weather events may expose humans to risks where we do not have immune-protection mechanisms against new pathogens in the first place.

“Compared with bacterial infection, virus infection has the tendency to progress to chronic infection. This is due to inadequate immune response from hosts,” said Dr. Chien. He further explained that sometimes the virus suppresses the host’s inner response and moves into sensory cells like nerve cells. As the immune system cannot reach the viruses, the viruses become latent and stay there for years until the immune system operates. Dr. Chien took HIV or HCV infection for instance. “If you don’t treat the patients in the early stage, or the first three months, almost 99% patients become chronic infected for the rest of their life,” he stated.

An illustration of viral cells.

An illustration of viral cells.

Therefore, it is important to take steps that can manage and mitigate pandemic risks. Dr. Chien proposed three action plans. The first involves getting to know the virus infection and its transmission route. He proposed to work closely with international public health institutions, e.g. the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “You need to get the first-hand information as soon as possible. The sooner you know about this infection, the better for us to formulate a strategy to control the virus infection,” stressed Dr. Chien. Also, he added that when a patient recovers from infection, neutralizing anti-sera should be collected (if possible) for future therapeutic treatment.

Yet, how can we effectively control virus infection? Dr. Chien commented that in the second plan, it is crucial to grow virus in the cell culture—known as viral culture—to isolate the virus for direct examination. However, since time is of the essence for pandemic issues, the third plan proposes screening commercially available drugs for viral inhibition in cell culture. Dr. Chien indicated that one way is to use artificial intelligence (AI) for viral structure predictions in finding new anti-viral drugs and developing vaccines based on the sequence result. For example, the development of anti-virus nucleic acid drug like RNA interference (RNAi) or the flu vaccine production scheme are great solutions to inhibit virus replication and control the disease.

These action plans along with quarantine policy are crucial steps to contain the spread of pandemics. Dr. Chien expressed his expectation that ITRI can play a role for pandemic prevention or treatment. Dr. Chii-Wann Lin, ITRI’s Vice President and General Director of Biomedical Technology and Device Research Laboratories responded that regarding vaccine production scheme, ITRI has the upstream skill set such as using AI to construct data and bioinformatics and conducting bioreactor operations for cell culture. ITRI will continue to enhance its technological competence and collaborate with global partners in developing biomedical and healthcare innovations to combat emerging pandemic viral infections.

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