Our Approach & Impact


 
The Sustainable Sciences Institute (SSI) is a US-based non profit organization, incorporated in San Francisco CA with subsidiaries in Nicaragua and Egypt, dedicated to developing scientific research capacity in areas of the world with pressing health problems. Our work is based on the premise that global health relies on biomedical scientists and public health workers who recognize and resolve priority disease problems at the local level with the appropriate use of knowledge, science, and technology. To this end, SSI works with partners and collaborators around the world to bring science to where it’s needed most to combat priority public health problems in limited resource settings.

 

OUR APPROACH

We help biomedical scientists and program directors gain access to training, funding, information, equipment, and supplies so that they can better meet the public health needs of their communities at the local, national and regional levels. We identify and work directly with promising researchers (and by extension their institutions) in developing countries, offering professional mentoring and long-term assistance to support them in their fields of research, share and pass on critical skills to their networks of colleagues, and identify ways in which they can continue to make a critical difference in the health of their own communities.

SSI aims to strengthen local scientific capacity, to reduce inequalities in health research, to facilitate knowledge exchange, to build networks of peers, and to support sustainable research efforts through the creation of Centers of Excellence. Our capacity building approach is based on four pillars: Training, Material Aid, Small Grants, and Networking and Consulting. We first train researchers through in-country workshops and provide donated laboratory materials. After the workshop, participants can apply for a small grant from SSI (depending on available funds) to continue their research using the new skills they learned. During and after the workshop, we help build partnerships, make connections between researchers locally, regionally, and internationally, and provide long-term support to our participants.

As an organization, SSI is an active advocate for open access science and socially responsible research and innovation. We believe and promote that sharing scientific progress and making resources and tools available to local partners on the front lines of public health problems is the only way to
fundamentally address health equity issues. Since our inception in 1998 (and before that through SSI’s predecessor as the Applied Molecular Biology / Appropriate Technology Transfer Program) we have transferred knowledge and technology to local scientists in the developing world through intensive in-country workshops and trainings on topics:

  • Research Design and Scientific Rigor
  • Scientific Proposal Preparation and Manuscript Writing
  • Bioethics and Ethical Conduct of Research
  • Epidemiology Methods
  • Bioinformatics
  • Molecular Biology Laboratory Techniques
  • Good Laboratory and Good Clinical Practices
  • Impact Evaluation in Public Health
  • Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Public Health

 

IMPACT: TRAINING & CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM

Over decades of collaborations and partnerships with colleagues (many of whom were former trainees!) at research institutions and ministries of health in Latin America and Africa, there are several specific examples of where SSI’s trainings and researcher support have led to direct impact on helping to identify, respond to and control priority infectious disease outbreaks.

Differential diagnosis of dengue & leptospirosis

In 1995 in Nicaragua, there was an outbreak of a disease that clinically acted and looked like dengue. It was widely diagnosed as dengue but specimens, tested by past SSI workshop participants working for the Ministry of Health in Nicaragua, were negative for dengue virus by RT-PCR. Subsequently, specimens were found negative in serological tests, as well. There was also an absence of Aedes aegypti mosquitos, which transmit dengue. This led these same researchers to investigate other causes. An international team that included SSI trainees discovered that the illness was caused by a bacterium, Leptospira, which is treatable with antibiotics. Leptospirosis was then recognized as a major emerging disease in Latin America.

Critical containment of dengue outbreaks

In August 2001, SSI conducted a training workshop in molecular and virological techniques for the identification of dengue, tuberculosis, and leishmaniasis in Asuncion, Paraguay. A few months later there was a large outbreak of an unknown febrile illness in Paraguay. Participants from SSI’s workshop, who were working for the Ministry of Health, used techniques they learned in the workshop to quickly identify the mystery illness as dengue. The rapid detection capacity and subsequent response led to better epidemiological control of the epidemic and slowed the outbreak down. This same situation happened in 2004 in Lima, Perú. Shortly after an SSI workshop on dengue identification, there was a large dengue outbreak that was successfully and rapidly identified by our former trainees. We have had trainees from Ecuador, El Salvador, Bolivia and Guatemala who have all provided critical lab skills in efficiently identifying dengue earlier in outbreaks, reducing the time necessary for public health officials to take necessary control and intervention measures.

Rapid identification of RSV in an ILI outbreak

In 2008, there was an influenza-like illness (ILI) outbreak in Nicaragua of unknown origin. The pediatric wards in hospitals quickly filled with hundreds of severe cases and numerous infant deaths were reported in the early days. The SSI team in Nicaragua immediately offered support to the Ministry of Health and began processing specimens for several of the ILI cases by RT-PCR, while additional support from the CDC was being sought. By the time the CDC team arrived the etiologic agent had been identified as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) by the SSI team and the labs furnished with loaned reagents and kits from SSI to further process specimens.

Anticipation of Influenza A H1N1pdm

In anticipation of the Influenza A H1N1 pandemic in 2009, the SSI Nicaragua team set up a real-time RT-PCT to detect H1N1 in May of that year. The first H1N1 case in Nicaragua presented in the SSI cohort study on June 1, 2009. The SSI team advised the Ministry of Health on surveillance procedures and diagnostic strategies for the pandemic and significantly contributed to improved surveillance and detection at a critical phase of the epidemic.

National Hepatitis C Biorepository in Egypt

In 2014, SSI, in collaboration with Menoufeya University’s National Liver Institute (NLI), the only academic institute in Egypt to solely focus on hepatology, set up and staffed the largest liver disease biorepository in Egypt. Over 500 hepatocarcinoma samples have already been collected and stored for research use. The National Liver Institute – Sustainable Sciences Institute Collaborative Research Center (NLISSICRC), which houses the liver biorepository, is headed by Dr. Sameera Ezzat, a former SSI trainee.

Chikungunya virus preparedness 2013-2015

In late 2013, Chikungunya, a disease similar to dengue, first appeared in Latin America. It spread rapidly from the Caribbean to Central and South America. The SSI team in Nicaragua, in collaboration with colleagues at the Ministry of Health and local research institutions, developed a strategy early on to help support local and regional detection. In January 2014 positive controls and primers for RT-PCR were obtained and set up in the national reference and diagnostic laboratory. From March to June 2014 monoclonal antibodies and antigens were obtained for in-house serological diagnosis and new ELISA assays were developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Health’s National Virology Laboratory. In July 2014 the first cases of Chikungunya were successfully and efficiently diagnosed in Nicaragua. In October 2014 the first autochthonous cases were diagnosed in Nicaragua, including participants in SSI’s cohort study. By November 2014, Chikungunya samples were sent to UC Berkeley for sequencing. Currently, the outbreak has spread, with thousands of locally transmitted confirmed cases in Nicaragua. That multiple samples were sequenced very early on in the outbreak allowed researchers to effectively get out in front of this new epidemic and improve the response time, diagnostic capacity and treatment intervention effectiveness of the public health system. SSI’s impact in supporting high quality research early on in disease detection in this case led to a formal collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization of the United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO) for regional infectious disease research capacity building.