Ohio State global health expert Wondwossen Gebreyes elected to National Academy of Medicine

About a decade ago, Ohio State University researcher Wondwossen Gebreyes and his team discovered the molecular mechanisms that play a role in triggering bacterial antibiotic resistance. The researchers identified microbes that, after tolerating certain disinfectants, automatically become resistant to a variety of antibiotics. As a result, disinfection practices have changed in environments that range from hospital rooms to pig farms.

As these discoveries spread through the scientific community, Gebreyes, Professor of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, was invited to guide researchers in Latin America and East Africa, and later in Asia and Europe, studying multidrug-resistant organisms and establishing molecular epidemiological capacity.

His molecular epidemiology research, and the extensive global partnerships that followed, were cited today when the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) announced the election of Gebreyes to the Academy’s 2021 Recruitment Class, widely recognized as one of the highest honors in health and medicine.

Gebreyes was recognized by the Academy for his leadership role in molecular epidemiology and global health, and for providing fundamental insights into the impact of animal husbandry and environmental systems on public health, community development and livelihood worldwide.

“I am very humble. But the work starts now – it’s a place for service and more action, ”he said. “I look forward to serving the collective scientific community and communities in general.”

Founded in 1970 as the Institute of Medicine, the NAM is one of three academies that make up the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in the United States. The academies are private, not-for-profit organizations that operate outside of government and provide objective advice on science, technology, and health issues.

According to Victor J. Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine, the 2021 newcomers represent the most diverse class of new members yet, made up of approximately 50% women and 50% racial and ethnic minorities. New members are elected by their colleagues in recognition of outstanding performance and their contribution to health and society.

Gebreyes, also executive director of Ohio State’s Global One Health Initiative (GOHi), has been a driving force behind Ohio State’s global impact on One Health, a strategy to better understand the relationships between animals, humans, and animals for years and address plant health and the environment.

A significant part of GOHi’s work includes research, training and the development of outreach capacities in partner countries – an initiative that goes back to Gebreyes’ first international collaborations in antibiotic resistance studies.

“We found that there was a lack of science and research and a lack of qualified personnel for this type of molecular work,” he said. “I have started teaching researchers in many countries how to conduct molecular epidemiological studies and building capacity for molecular epidemiological work on drug resistance.”

Until 2010, Gebreyes received the first research training grant from the Fogarty International Center of the National Institutes of Health focusing on antibiotic resistance in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania – a program that is still active to this day.

“We have trained 28 PhD students in molecular epidemiology so far under the program, and they are now the people in their countries doing COVID-19 diagnostics because the same tools are used,” he said.

Engaging faculties and students at colleges and institutes across the state of Ohio, GOHi has added basic and applied research and public relations to core training and capacity building tasks. External partners and donors include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Agency for International Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and dozens of agencies in cooperating countries. The initiative is widely recognized for its global leadership and effectiveness, and Gebreyes now has an advisory role to other US universities working to establish similar consortia.

“I enjoy tackling big challenges and the need for broader global capacity building remains a priority,” he said. “We have learned from COVID-19 that the world is very inadequately prepared for an infectious disease pandemic.”

Gebreyes is also currently a Fellow of the American Council on Education at Michigan State University, where, in addition to his university leadership training, he is working on a project aimed at ensuring that the US higher education system of the future proactively addresses societal challenges, especially those that are being addressed of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and which remain critical in Ohio and other states.

“Perhaps we now understand more than ever how connected the world really is. With his scientific knowledge and exceptional international partnerships, Dr. Gebreyes will undoubtedly make an important contribution to the deliberations and policy recommendations of the National Academy of Medicine, ”said Grace Wang, executive vice president of research, innovation and knowledge, Ohio State. “We are so proud to be recognized for his work in improving global public health.”

The election of Gebreyes brings the total number of current members of the Ohio State National Academies to 33, including a professor who is a member of two academies. Gebreyes is one of 10 members of the National Academy of Medicine in the state of Ohio.

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