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UW-Madison joins international initiative to prevent future pandemics


MADISON (WKOW) -- Research at UW-Madison has been crucial to the COVID-19 response in Wisconsin, and the university is now getting some new help to keep the research going -- to try to get ahead of whatever the next threat may be.

Virology professor Thomas Friedrich is one of the researchers involved currently with coronavirus variant sequencing.

"Is it one large, totally-interconnected Delta outbreak, or are we seeing sort of multiple, smaller fires that are all kind of burning from independent sparks?" he said. "It actually seems to be the latter."

His lab and others at UW-Madison have been working collaboratively with state and local health officials to do this kind of work during the pandemic to try to keep up with the virus.

Now, there's more opportunity for that research to get ahead of whatever the next virus might be.

"We need to work towards a sustainable approach," Friedrich said.

It's called the Pandemic Prevention Institute, and it's funded by The Rockefeller Foundation. Friedrich says funding is going to UW-Madison and three other universities in the U.S., as well as a handful of other research operations in different countries to keep crucial work going.

"Not just throwing up the Bat Signal when there's an emergency, but rather kind of constantly surveilling for viruses that might be out there," Friedrich explained.

Those institutions across the globe will keep tabs on their communities and share findings, as well -- in an effort to identify and neutralize any outbreaks before they get out of hand.

"Just say like, 'Well, okay, I've seen a lot of illnesses in our public schools in the early fall. What's causing that? Is that something we should be worried about?'" Friedrich said as an example.

He says the Pandemic Prevention Institute starts with the four U.S. universities and other organizations, but it's designed to grow and stay vigilant -- eventually (hopefully) creating a network of researchers that remains always vigilant.

"Sooner or later, we may find a signal of something that we really need to rapidly respond to before it becomes a serious pandemic, like this one," Friedrich said.

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