The first outbreak of the new "swine flu" strain, now known as H1N1, earlier this year in Mexico caught the world by surprise. Public health officials around the world tried to stop the virus at the borders but were largely helpless. Shortly after, on the other side of the world from Mexico, I saw the health check posts in Cambodia at the airport and at a borderpost with Vietnam, right when the country found its first H1N1 cases which were flown in by US exchange students. The weapons used by the health officials to combat the spread of the virus were primarily paper survey forms and thermometers; the virus won, very quickly. Genomics is rapidly changing both the way diseases are diagnosed and the way medications and vaccines are developed - but will it give us the tools to prevent the next pandemic?
- What if countries where emerging infections originate, from Cameroon to Cambodia, could rapidly sequence suspect samples and discover new pathogens when only a few people have become sick?
- What if all such sequence data were immediately shared in a single global open access database?
- What if you could search for a string of sequence data and all associated data, annotations or publications as easily and effectively as a Google search?
- What if markers discovered for a new disease would quickly be incorporated into affordable hand held multi-pathogen diagnostic tests widely available at the point of care?
- What if the results of those tests were uploaded to a database where surveillance tools like Google Flu Trends could discover outbreaks?