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Prominent infectious diseases expert to open Virginia Tech deans' forum


BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 23, 2008 – The scientist appointed to lead a major new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiative to combat infectious diseases will present the keynote address during Virginia Tech's upcoming Deans' Forum on Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Lonnie King, senior veterinarian and director of the center’s National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-Borne, and Enteric Diseases in Atlanta, will discuss “One Health” on Sunday, Sept. 28 at 6:30 p.m. in Burruss Hall Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

The full-day academic symposium that gets underway on Monday, Sept. 29 at 8 a.m. at the Inn at Virginia Tech will feature other visiting experts as well as Virginia Tech faculty-members who will showcase the university’s latest research activities and expertise within the area of infectious diseases. The presentations and scientific abstracts will be presented within the four main categories of prevention and control of infectious diseases, infectious disease ecology and epidemiology, molecular pathogenesis, and host-pathogen interactions.

The Deans’ Forum on Infectious Diseases has been organized and is being hosted by the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and Virginia Tech’s College of Science.

“Infectious diseases have shaped the course of civilization and they continue to do so today,” said Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, a noted veterinary immunologist and dean of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. “Virginia Tech researchers are doing significant work in infectious diseases and in the biomedical sciences in general. Our goal with this forum is to highlight the work and the progress being made and stimulate new approaches that can drive new breakthroughs in the future.”

The Deans’ Forum on Infectious Diseases is the fourth in a series of forums that are intended to showcase activities within the university targeted at issues of topical interest to society. Previous forums have focused on energy and sustainability; the environment; and health, food, and nutrition.

On Monday, Sept. 29, the Deans’ Forum on Infectious Diseases will feature a major address in each of the four topical areas, several presentations focused on major research programs underway at the university, and an extensive series of scientific posters that describe various research programs underway.

“One of our overarching goals with this forum is to foster a more interdisciplinary approach to our infectious disease research,” said Lay Nam Chang, dean of the College of Science, who noted that infectious disease research is a major component of the university’s discovery domain. “We have a number of programs underway in different colleges and departments. Through the presentation of this forum and the development of related materials, we hope to increase collaboration among our scientists.”

The Molecular Pathogenesis session will feature a talk entitled “Escherichia coli Biofilms, Bottlenecks and Host Responses in Urinary Tract Infections” by Dr. Scott Hultgren of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Dr. Peter Palese of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York will present “Pathogenicity of Pandemic Influenza Viruses” during the Host-Pathogen Interaction sequence of presentations.

The Infectious Disease Ecology and Epidemiology program will feature a presentation entitled “Ecologic Change and Disease Emergence: Humans as a Reservoir of Disease for Free Ranging Wildlife” by Kathleen Alexander of the College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech. The final session on Vector/Disease Prevention and Control will feature a lecture entitled “Engineering Pathogen Resistance in Vector Mosquitoes” by Dr. Anthony James of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at the University of California- Irvine’s School of Medicine.

A 120-page proceedings book has been published which includes scientific abstracts that describe more than 100 specific infectious disease research projects that are underway at the university.

That work is underway in the veterinary college, and the Colleges of Science, Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Natural Resources; it is also being conducted in research centers that include the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, the Institute for Biomedical and Public Health Sciences, the Fralin Institute of Biomedical Sciences and the Center for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease. More than 40 Virginia Tech faculty members are profiled within a bibliography of infectious disease researchers posted on the university’s website.

Globalization and international trade, increased interaction between humans and animals, and changes in the environment are factors that have increased infectious disease threats for people and animals in the modern world.

As a result of this, according to Schurig, the human and animal medical communities have been working more closely together in recent years. For example, in his final address to the American Medical Association’s House of Delegates in June 2008, retiring President Dr. Ronald M. Davis reminded the group that about 60 percent of the estimated 1,500 diseases that affect people result from multi-host pathogens that move across species, and he called for greater collaboration between physicians and veterinarians and expressed support for a “one health” concept.

Malaria remains a global health problem that affects hundreds of millions of people and kills an estimated 1,000,000 a year, according to the Center for Disease Control. In the United States alone, food borne pathogens are responsible for 76 million illnesses a year, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, according to center experts.

Government officials view infectious disease agents as major bioterrorism threats as well. About 70 percent of the Center for Disease Control’s list of Category A bioterrorism agents are zoonotic infectious disease agents such as anthrax, plague, tularemia, and hemorrhagic agents.

Advancements in molecular biology over the past few decades have illuminated the complex processes associated with the transmission and development of disease and helped biomedical scientists better understand the interrelationships between microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, and other infectious agents with their intermediary vectors and hosts.

This has led to significant advancements in immunology and fostered a systems-based approach to understanding and battling infectious diseases, one that is structured upon the examination of humans, animals, and plants as they interact within a constantly changing natural environment. Such is the organizing concept behind the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-Borne and Enteric Diseases, which was created in 2007 and is responsible for bioterrorism preparedness, epidemiology, applied research, disease surveillance, and outbreak response for infectious diseases.

Before assuming his new post at the National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-Borne, and Enteric Diseases, King, a veterinarian, served as the center’s first director of the Office of Strategy and Innovation. Prior to that, he served as dean of the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine for 10 years. He also spent nearly 20 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, which culminated in his serving as the agency’s administrator for four years. During that period, he also served as the country’s chief veterinary officer for five years and worked extensively in global trade agreements and protecting the nation’s plant and animal resources.

Find online registration and more information about the forum.