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Seeking Disease Solutions in Nature

A new program at the Woods Institute aims to pioneer cost-effective ecological solutions to disease.


The line between environmental health and human health is blurred. The world’s rural poor know this well: ecological systems they depend on for subsistence can also spread high rates of infectious diseases through pathogens carried by agricultural pests, rodents, parasites and other vectors.

The Program for Disease Ecology, Health and the Environment (DEHE) works with experts in public health, ecology, engineering, computer science, medicine and the social sciences to find sustainable environmental interventions for a range of diseases with key environmental components. (Read more about the program – a joint initiative of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and Stanford’s Center for Innovation in Global Health – on its newly launched website

“We want to think beyond the pills to find creative solutions,” said DEHE co-director  Susanne Sokolow, a research associate at Hopkins Marine Station.

“We promote a holistic approach that looks at the whole life cycle of pathogens and parasites and investigates the interactions of people and the environment,” said Giulio De Leo, a biology professor at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station and a Woods senior fellow. “Our ultimate aim is to identify environmental levers we can use to develop cost-effective solutions that can improve human health and protect the environment.”

De Leo and Sokolow are both senior fellows at the Center for Innovation in Global Health.

DEHE expands on a keystone project called the Upstream Alliance, a multi-institution initiative that upended the status quo of drug-only treatment by showing that an ecological intervention is more effective than drugs alone in checking the spread of schistosomiasis a waterborne parasitic disease affecting about 250 million people. De Leo and Sokolow received early funding for that work from the Stanford Woods Institute’s Environmental Venture Projects seed grant program (read about the project). DEHE received initial funding from the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies.

Learn more about DEHE seed funding for small working groups of Stanford faculty, postdoctoral scholars, students and their colleagues. 

By Rob Jordan, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

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