Since 2003, the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus subtype H5N1 has had a devastating impact on domestic and wild birds in many parts of Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The virus has also been transmitted to humans, infecting more than 500 people as of July 2010, of whom over 60% have died as a consequence. Even though the virus is believed to be poorly transmitted between humans, the growing concern is that further mutation or genetic reassortment is likely to occur, producing a strain that has the potential to cause a worldwide pandemic. Moreover, the pandemic 2009 (H1N1) swine-origin influenza A virus, albeit considered relatively mild, still continues to circulate worldwide, giving rise to concerns about new strains emerging which might cause another pandemic. For Thailand, the recurrent outbreaks of influenza outbreaks and the number of human fatalities it has already caused have heightened awareness in both the general population and the government to the threat of this deadly pathogen to the extent that many sectors, both public and private, have urgently implemented preparedness plans.
The National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC) has recently established the Virology and Cell Technology Laboratory (VCTL) to stimulate research and scientific advancement concerning many aspects of the influenza virus and other related respiratory pathogens.Researchers at VCTL investigate problems that range from understanding the fundamental mechanisms of influenza pathogenesis, improving methods for vaccine production and antiviral compound screening, and developing diagnostic kits all the way to the large-scale production of different types of vaccines. This juxtaposition of scientists with a broad range of interests and expertise opens the opportunity for interactions in which a variety of approaches are brought to bear. Such interactions occur routinely as individual collaborations among laboratory members.