The rapid and continuous emergence of arthropod-borne (insects and ticks) viruses (arboviruses), such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya, West Nile, and Powassan virus, presents one of the greatest challenges to public health. Multiple factors, such as urbanization, increased travel, wars and social upheaval, and climate change, are fueling local outbreaks and global spread. As a result, the annual burden of dengue virus has soared to an estimated 390 million infections, and the recent epidemics of Zika and chikungunya viruses in the Americas may have infected hundreds of millions of people.
The YSPH has a rich history with arboviruses, starting with the Rockefeller Foundation Viral Laboratories moving to New Haven and founding the Yale Arbovirus Research Unit (YARU) in 1964. This brought to Yale a group of the world's leading authorities on arbovirus infections including Nobel prize winner Max Theiler. YARU was recognized by the World Health Organization as the International Reference Centre for Arboviruses.
Under the direction of Professor Albert Ko, YSPH has been at the forefront of identifying and understanding the Zika virus. In collaboration with the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Albert Ko's lab studies the cellular and molecular mechanisms that have caused microcephaly in so many babies in Brazil and other parts of South America.
Assistant Professor Nathan Grubaugh’s lab uses genomics to investigate how arboviruses spread (genomic epidemiology), cause disease (functional evolution), and adapt to new environments (experimental evolution). He recently teamed up with a large group of international collaborators to investigate the Zika virus epidemic in the Americas by sequencing directly from clinical samples and field-collected mosquitoes. Their goal is to understand the fundamentals of arbovirus emergence to better plan for and respond to future outbreaks.