Kawasaki Disease: Road to discovery

The  Institut Català de Ciències del Clima (IC3) has launched today a new website (www.kawasaki-disease.com) to publicize its research on Kawasaki disease (KD) and initiate a fundraising initiative. The aim is to fund the airborne campaigns to be conducted over Japan to gather, for the first time, air samples in the atmosphere to uncover its microbiologic content in the search for the KD etiologic agent. The research, led by ICREA Professor Xavier Rodó , head of the Unit of Climate Dynamics and Impacts (UDIC) and Professor Josep-Anton Morgui, head of the Laboratory of the Atmosphere and Oceans (LAO) of the same Institute stems from  collaborative research already initiated in 2011 with scientists of the University of California at San Diego, the University of Hawaii and medical doctors from the University of Tokyo and chemical scientists from the University Tsukuba. Three years ago, the consortium discovered that outbreaks of the disease in Japan –the place in the world with highest incidence of KD- were associated with the wind dynamics in the region. At the same time, these wind currents could explain connections existing between outbreaks of the disease in Japan and the subsequent outbreaks in both Hawaii and the west coast of the United States of America. In other studies led by the same consortium, it has been shown that it is possible to anticipate three to six months ahead the likely occurrence of seasons with high or low incidence of KD in both Japan and the US. These predictions essentially relied on a deep understanding of the development and evolution of the large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns and regional wind currents. Particularly, through their connection to certain patterns of oceanic water temperatures in both the tropical and the north Pacific oceans. Subsequently, new results showed a consistent pattern in the appearance of maximal incidences of the disease in all countries in the northern hemisphere where the disease has been reported (the study included 25 countries) and how this pattern was different from that of countries in the southern hemisphere. This fact provided further support to the mounting evidence supporting the hypothesis of a windborne agent as the one responsible for the development of this mysterious syndrome.
As a result, the IC3 research team has now launched a fundraising campaign aimed at covering the costs of this important research, to precisely identify the agent responsible for KD in the atmospheric samples collected aloft over Japan. The main objective is to conduct a series of 10 flights over Tokyo with a new airborne equipment from a research aircraft to collect air samples to be subsequently analyzed in some of the best laboratories in the world. The prototype, developed in conjunction with a small Catalan industry, enables the collection of high volumes of air. The series of flights will be repeated again in summer, at a time when KD incidence in Japan is normally low. This way, it will be possible to see how samples from seasons of high or low KD incidences differ in their microbiologic composition. The sampling will be repeated during the first months of 2015, again in a seasonal window where there is a high incidence of KD in Japan, to compare with results obtained this year. Analytics will include sophisticated techniques of deep genetic sequencing and metagenomics aimed at characterizing new organisms, as well as the chemical and physical determination of air masses.
This research has an initial episode in the year 2011, a few days before the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and in a preliminary survey that leads to the current intensive campaigns. The international economic crisis has resulted in a challenging environment to advance this research endeavor. To combat this, IC3, in collaboration with the other institutions in the consortium, have initiated a new survey of atmospheric flights in Japan through the current fundraising campaign. The ultimate identification of a potential etiologic agent responsible for this disease might lead to the development of effective pharmacological treatments that would enable an accurate treatment of the patients of this mysterious illness. This could contribute to a public health alert system in those countries where the disease is on the increase (currently Japan and the United States but with around 40 new cases each year in Catalonia).
Funds obtained through this fundraising campaign will be entirely devoted to the cost of the airborne surveys over Japan and whenever possible, to fund the costly genetic analyses. To this end, a new website has been launched that will provide regular progress reports on sample gathering and latest results. This website will also serve as the most up-to-date example of a science in society approach with an online research channel, where information and videos will be posted regularly to describe the research at the time it is performed