New WSU research center in Kenya will provide diagnostic testing, vaccines

Researchers investigate Rift Valley fever, MERS-CoV; other centers around the world coordinate disease surveillance efforts



A researcher tests a camel for MERS-CoV in Marsabit, Kenya. Camels are known to be reservoir hosts of the virus.

EMMA LEDBETTER, Evergreen news editor

WSU launched a new Center for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases in Nairobi, Kenya, which will speed the development of diagnostic testing and vaccines for various diseases in eastern and central Africa.

As part of WSU’s Global Health – Kenya program, the center serves 13 countries in the region and is conducting studies on diseases in four of those countries, said Kariuki Njenga, director of the new research center, called CREID-ECA, and WSU professor of infectious diseases. 

“The idea behind creating this CREID … is to bring research closer to where outbreaks happen,” Njenga said. “We should be at the front line, making sure we provide [a] quick and rapid diagnosis of what the problem could be.”

More research was needed to identify emerging and infectious diseases, Njenga said. Disease surveillance before and during epidemics is a large part of the center’s function in eastern and central Africa.

A number of known and unknown infections could cause unexplained symptoms, such as high fevers. Researchers at CREID will work with local healthcare providers to identify diseases that may be causing such symptoms in patients, said Guy Palmer, senior director of WSU Global Health and WSU regents professor of pathology and infectious diseases.

“You don’t build trust with a community … during an outbreak,” Palmer said. “You build it before, by working with them.”

One of CREID’s primary roles is to create and distribute diagnostic tests, reagents and vaccines during epidemics, Njenga said. 

Outside of epidemics, CREID researchers are studying two viruses, Rift Valley fever and MERS-CoV, to gain a deeper understanding of existing pathogens in the region, he said. 

The research center cooperates with 10 other centers around the world to monitor emerging diseases and coordinate response efforts, Palmer said. The centers are funded by the National Institutes of Health and run in cooperation with other universities.

“What we are doing is perhaps the best effort to prevent the next COVID,” Njenga said. “It is circulating and lurking in the vines, and that’s where we are working.”