The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau

A speakers bureau that represents the best original thinkers,
writers, and doers for speaking engagements.

Nathan Wolfe: Envisioning a Different Approach to Pandemic Control

If you've got a pandemic on your hands, the person you'll want on your side is Nathan Wolfe. The founder of the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative knows his way around contagions. In fact, he was a consultant on the recent #1 film Contagion, which deals with a fictional virus that's handled in real-world terms. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Wolfe now offers up a solution to finding real-world viral threats before they get too big.

What Wolfe envisions is a shift in the medical community's response to threats. “The usual approach has been reactive: throw everything you've got at the disease du jour,” he says. “We need a different approach, based on our growing capacity to predict the most serious threats and to keep them from spreading. Pandemics do not occur randomly. . . . We increasingly know which parts of the world pose the greatest risk for future incursions.” Wolfe sees the task of monitoring “viral chatter” as a futuristic Google-esque info hive, where 24-hour a day data crunching covers global viral hotspots for spikes in prescription data, fever rates, and Twitter trends. The ultimate goal of such an envisioned situation room is getting an early jump on the next big viral killer. We're not there yet, notes Wolfe, but we already have the tools to build this early warning and prevention system.

A dynamic field-oriented virologist, Nathan Wolfe has spoken, accessibly and entertainingly, for the likes of TED and the National Institute for Health. Besides being a Fulbright Fellow, Wolfe is the recipient of the National Geographic Emerging Explorers Award. His work, groundbreaking and newsworthy, has been featured in Wired and The Economist, and his new book, The Viral Storm, which deals with viral forecasting, will be released latest his month.

Nathan Wolfe At TED: Connectivity is a Solution to Pandemics

Virus hunter, and acclaimed biologist
Nathan Wolfe takes us on a tour of 7 million years of pandemic history in a newly posted TEDMED video. In just a few minutes he expertly highlights the major shifts and major solutions surrounding the current and future battle against viral illnesses.

Wolfe illustrates how human evolution has made pandemics easier to spread. Besides being carnivores, getting jammed in a population bottleneck that damaged our microbial defenses, domesticating animals, and living in big contagious cities, one element of our being has dramatically changed the pandemic game more than all: transportation. “Perhaps the most important and critical event in human history was the advent of mass transportation. Planes, trains, ships, automobiles—these all connect global human populations and animal populations in a ways that are completely unprecedented,” says Wolfe. “We now represent a single massive viral mixing vessel. Viruses entering anywhere in the cycle have the capacity to spread anywhere in the world.”

But just as connectivity has opened up the world to spreading diseases, it's also offered a solution. Modern tech can help catch pandemics before they peak. Wolfe, founder and director of the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative, does just that, monitoring outbreaks in Africa and Asia to cut them off at the pass. He adds that tools like Google's Flu Trends, which monitors searches on the topic to chart upticks, are the way prevention is heading. He predicts that location services attached to ubiquitous cell phones will be another stage of tracking infections and spread, as will data from social nets like Facebook.

Nathan Wolfe, who is a member of this year's TIME 100, will release his first book, The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age, this fall. Called “a charismatic and rising star of the medical world” by fellow Lavin speaker Jared Diamond, Wolfe is a mesmerizing speaker, for scientific and general audiences alike. “There is so much in the world we don't yet know, so much left to discover,” he tells audiences. “And this is cause, not for despair, but for hope.”

Read more about global health speaker Nathan Wolfe