By Chloe Cabrera
The National Institute of Health (NIH), which is based in the University of the Philippines Manila, has created a Web-based interactive database for influenza which it is currently subjecting in a ?beta test? in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH).
Described as a “marriage of computer science and biology” by program leader Dr. Edsel Salvana, the project aims to provide a national genome library for the ?surveillance, detection, characterization, and drug-resistance monitoring of influenza virus infection cases? in the Philippines.
The project is also expected to provide users with up-to-date information on influenza strains using tables, graphs, and an interactive map showing infection rates throughout the country. Users may also input data and use the site to compute for distribution tables and graphs.
Its proponents said the Web initiative will also link viral genetic data with clinical data, and possibly provide modeling software for predicting epidemic spreads.
The database is a collaborative project of NIH in UP Manila, The Medical City, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), and the DOH National Epidemiology Center (NEC).
The project received a P20-million fund from the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD).
According to Salvana, the project is it is the first of its kind from a developing country, and was made at only a fraction of the cost with which similar databases have been made in developing countries.
Once released, it will be hosted by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) and open to the public with different levels of access. Only certain users can input new data, which will then be screened by administrators before being added to the database.
“It is important to keep an eye on influenza,” Salvana explained during his presentation of the project at the PGC’s scientific symposium on Monday, April 14, at the National Institute of Physics in UP Diliman.
According to Salvana, the possibility of a contagious disease such as bird flu (A(H1N1)) combining with influenza could result in catastrophic pandemics, making the availability of up-to-date influenza data vital to the country.
There is currently no existing Web-based database on influenza in the Philippines. Salvana noted that the present data only includes basic information and infection rates.
“One of the things we really wanted to do was to work with the Department of Health in terms of taking their data and finding a home for it, and, on top of that, digitizing the influenza-like illness surveillance form they use in the field so that those could come in at almost real time,” Salvana said.
The project was first conceptualized in 2009 in response to the A(H1N1) pandemic, while the project proper lasted from 2010 to 2012.
“We developed a prototype Web-based interactive genome database for influenza-like illnesses that is ready for field testing, adopting the NEC surveillance forms in a paperless system”, Salvana said.
A total of 403 Philippine A(H1N1) samples from 2009 to 2011 were analyzed and used to test the genome library. Currently, the Website has nearly complete functionality, garnering positive feedback from stakeholders and strong interest in a public-private partnership with DOH.
Eventually, the team plans to expand the database to other diseases of public health importance, such as dengue and HIV. They also plan to incorporate the RITM’s data into the database.