Wolfe, Nathan


Wolfe, Nathan
▪ 2009

born Aug. 24, 1970, Detroit, Mich.

      At a meeting sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in February 2008, American virologist and epidemiologist Nathan Wolfe announced his plans for a Global Viral Forecasting Initiative (GVFI) to monitor the transmission of viruses from animals to humans in countries worldwide. The initiative was launched to reduce the threat of disease to public health by detecting the emergence of infectious agents in humans and to control them before the agents gave rise to diseases of epidemic proportions. The GVFI stemmed from a project Wolfe conducted in rural villages in central Africa. His investigation of the hunting and butchering practices in these villages showed that viruses can jump from wild animals to humans through animal-to-hunter contact. Wolfe indicated that he would need to raise $50 million to expand his monitoring project in central Africa to other countries around the world. By spring 2008, 100 scientists in nine countries had begun to collaborate for the GVFI.

      Wolfe received a bachelor's degree (1993) in human biology from Stanford University. He then attended Harvard University, where he received a master's degree (1995) in biological anthropology and a doctorate (1998) in immunology and infectious disease. From 1999 to 2006 Wolfe was a postdoctoral student and then an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md. There he worked with American epidemiologist Donald Burke, who suspected that the practice of hunting bushmeat (primates and other wild animals hunted for food) in Africa had exposed a source of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Based in Cameroon, Wolfe studied the local hunters and their hunting practices. Although research conditions sometimes proved difficult, Wolfe was undaunted. In 2004 he and his colleagues found that 1% of bushmeat hunters were infected with simian foamy virus—a virus that is closely related to HIV and is carried by nonhuman primates. This groundbreaking study demonstrated that infectious agents common to wild animals can be transmitted to humans via contact with the animal's blood and that these agents can potentially give rise to new strains of infectious pathogens in humans.

      In 2006 Wolfe joined the department of epidemiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He began pursuing ways to monitor, predict, and prevent animal-to-human transfer of viruses and soon recognized the need for a program such as the GVFI. Wolfe had ongoing projects not only in Africa but also in Southeast Asia. In China he was collaborating with other scientists in investigating wet markets (food markets that sell live animals) as a source of zoonoses (diseases from wild animals). Wolfe was also involved in wildlife conservation and habitat preservation as a means to limit the hunting of wild animals and thus the spread of infectious viruses. Among awards that Wolfe received was the National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award (2005).

Kara Rogers

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Universalium. 2010.

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