Scientists Are Trying to Spot New Viruses Before They Cause Pandemics
Scientists want to build a weather system for viruses. It would require a big financial investment, plus buy-in from doctors, hospitals and blood banks.
Back in the summer, Dr. Michael Mina made a deal with a cold storage company. With many of its restaurant clients closed down, the firm had freezers to spare. And Dr. Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, had a half-million vials of plasma from human blood coming to his lab from across the country, samples dating back to the carefree days of January 2020.
The vials, now in three hulking freezers outside Dr. Mina’s lab, are at the center of a pilot project for what he and his collaborators call the Global Immunological Observatory. They envision an immense surveillance system that can check blood from all over the world for the presence of antibodies to hundreds of viruses at once. That way, when the next pandemic washes over us, scientists will have detailed, real-time information on how many people have been infected by the virus and how their bodies responded.
It might even offer some early notice, like a tornado warning. Although this monitoring system will not be able to detect new viruses or variants directly, it could show when large numbers of people start acquiring immunity to a particular kind of virus.