Tufts Vet School to Receive Zoonotic Disease Research Funding

Tufts University has been tapped by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of a multidisciplinary team that will receive a grant of up to $185-million to create better synergies among veterinarians, doctors, and public health officials in responding to emerging infectious diseases.

The five-year initiative, which will be led by Bethesda-based DAI and also includes the University of Minnesota, will improve the capacity of countries in high-risk areas to respond to outbreaks of emergent zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans. With a focus on preventing zoonotic diseases from reaching the human population, the intent of the project is to identify and counter outbreaks while they are still within wildlife and livestock.

Known as RESPOND, the project will focus on the development of long-term field epidemiology training, short-term in-service training, and academic preparation of all health professionals using a One Health framework-drawing physicians, public health officials, and veterinarians together for a common purpose. Training will facilitate the merging of animal and human health dynamics into a comprehensive approach to disease detection and outbreak response. The twinning of U.S. academic institutions with local academic institutions in partner countries is a key feature of the project.

The threat to human health from emerging zoonotic infectious diseases is very real. Understanding and responding to this threat are key strengths of the Cummings School and Tufts, said Deborah T. Kochevar, DVM, PhD, dean of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, which will spearhead Tufts' efforts.

The RESPOND grant is one of five projects of the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats program. The other four complementary projects are known as PREDICT (to monitor for emergence of infectious agents from high risk wildlife), IDENTIFY (to develop a robust laboratory network), PREPARE (to test pandemic preparedness plans) and PREVENT (focusing on behavior change communication to help people avoid high-risk practices that could lead to transmission from animals to humans). Taken together, these mechanisms aim to capitalize on recent successful global USAID sponsored efforts to understand and contain highly pathogenic avian and pandemic influenza worldwide--and apply those key lessons learned to preventing newly emerging disease agents from becoming pandemics.

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