OU researchers were awarded a $730,000 grant from NASA to investigate emerging infectious disease threats in Central Asia, including the 2019 coronavirus.
The research team will study coronavirus and other disease outbreaks that are zoonotic, which means they evolved in part from increased contact between humans and animals, according to a university press release.
The grant will support the development of new measures to identify population vulnerabilities and attempt to forecast outbreak scenarios that may develop in the future, according to the release.
“The goal of our research is to determine if we can better predict the economic, public health and environmental risks of large-scale development initiatives, such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative, by carefully measuring and monitoring environmental and urban land cover and land use change in the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor,” said Kirsten de Beurs, chair of OU’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, in the release.
The interdisciplinary grant includes de Beurs, the principal investigator who will direct remote-sensing specialists on the project, as well as socioeconomic and health analysis by social scientists at OU, including co-investigators Katherine Hirschfeld of the Department of Anthropology and Daniel Hicks of the Department of Economics, according to the release.
OU’s researchers will help train undergraduate and graduate students in the research methods necessary for the study, according to the release.
“Through collaboration and information sharing with local researchers and stakeholders across Central Asia,” the release said, “this new research will enhance the region’s own capacity to identify and respond to developing health threats.”