November 21, 2019

Faces of Innovation: Dr. Mark Kortepeter, researcher at University of Nebraska

Marissa Chmiola
Communications Officer

Faces of Innovation—a new GHTC project that features scientists on the front lines of research and development on new global health tools and technologies—profiles Dr. Mark Kortepeter, who we met at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) Annual Conference, who does research on emerging infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

My name: Mark Kortepeter, MD, PhD.

Where I work: University of Nebraska in Lincoln

I’m funded by: Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

My research: I’m an infectious disease and public health physician and I work for the University of Nebraska Medical Center. I lead what’s called the special pathogens research network, so this is a network, we have ten centers across the country, that are tied together as a research network for response to outbreaks, especially ones that are related to high consequence pathogens like Ebola. 

What we realized after the 2014/2016 outbreak [of Ebola], where there were patients coming into the US, was that there were a number of different investigational products that were used to treat the patients. We realized in the end that we really didn’t understand what was beneficial and what wasn’t in terms of the treatment because they were all given as individual investigational products. So the whole goal was to have a network that was tied together so we can learn more if this happens again—whether it’s Ebola or some other disease like Nipa virus or some novel influenza—so at the end of an outbreak, we would actually be able to compile data, be working off the same sheet of music, off the same protocol, to essentially advance science in understanding what works best for patients.

If there are novels products that are still investigational, we would track with those—so we have some Ebola countermeasures that we have been working with…as well as if there was something new that popped up and a need to study something in real time, we could do that. In addition, if there is something for which there is no therapy, we also have the ability to follow the natural history of the disease and what clinical interventions also seem to be useful.

Motivation: I got into this because I had a travel bug, and I liked the idea of doing work in infectious diseases because there is a travel component with it because you’re dealing with exotic diseases across the world. So that’s what really got me into it. I just found it fascinating working with people of other cultures.

Why federal support is critical: It’s important to invest in this because we really don’t know where the next outbreak will come from…It’s possible that something will come out of left field and surprise us. So it’s very important to have some preparedness in mind, such that you can be ready for anything that comes. If you really think about it, we were all caught up with Ebola in 2014/2016, and then suddenly there is Zika virus, or we were surprised when West Nile showed up on the US shores. So we have to have a global mindset, we have to understand what’s going on outside the country as well as what can land on our shores, because we just never know what’s going to happen next. We’re all kind of one global world now in terms of infectious diseases. Infectious diseases have no boundaries or borders.

When I’m not in the lab: The thing I’m really excited about right now is that I wrote a book about my experiences dealing with bioweapon defense when I worked at Fort Detrick, Maryland at the US Army laboratory there…It’s called “Inside the Hot Zone: A Solider on the Frontline of Biological Warfare.” It just came out this week. It’s written like a medical thriller, but it’s also very educational, and it gives an insider’s perspective on things like the anthrax attacks, preparation for Ebola outbreaks, dealing with Ebola in the laboratory, things like that.