Veterinary college programs to address cross-species health risks

Two veterinary colleges recently established new programs for protecting human and animal health.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine launched its Institute for Infectious and Zoonotic Diseases, which is intended as a zoonotic disease research hub. And Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine established a new Department of Public and Ecosystem Health, an academic unit intended to coordinate work on human, animal, and environmental health.

Both colleges announced the creation of the new programs in late October 2021.

An article in the university publication Penn Today indicates the new institute is forming partnerships with state agencies, foundations, industry, and international organizations to “build expertise, enhance scientific understanding, leverage innovative technological approaches, and support the infrastructure needed to confront the next zoonotic disease outbreak.” The article also describes projects such as research into microbiome communities, studies on the role of environmental toxins in zoonotic infections, and work with partners in Africa and South America to build capacity and expertise in immunology and infectious disease research.

Christopher A. Hunter, PhD, professor of pathobiology at Penn Vet, said in the article that the institute is needed because “we live in an infectious world.”

“There are many emerging infectious diseases that are viewed as profoundly significant to public health, and the majority of these are zoonotic,” he said.

dr Lorin D. Warnick, dean of veterinary medicine at Cornell, said in an announcement that the new department in his college would unite veterinarians, research scientists, and public health practitioners to address critical health problems through education, research, and community engagement. dr Alexander Travis, founding chair of the department at Cornell, said in the announcement that the department would unite faculty from different professions and disciplines “to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.”

Many of the worst problems plaguing humanity arise from unsustainable ways humans interact with other species and environments as well as inequitable ways humans interact with each other, he said.

The department comprises 26 faculty members who will focus on challenges under three themes: healthy food systems, emerging health threats, and biodiversity conservation. Those themes include myriad complex problems connected with climate change, poverty, discrimination, and loss of biodiversity, the announcement states.

“Addressing these complicated problems requires diverse disciplinary expertise—not just in veterinary medicine and public health, but also in the realms of ecology, social sciences, and policy,” the announcement states.