Texas A&M University System leadership; and government, state, industry and research partners gathered Nov. 13 in College Station, Texas to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the establishment of Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD), a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Center of Excellence. The celebration commemorated a decade of working together to protect our nation’s livestock industries and global health.
Held at the Memorial Student Center on Texas A&M University’s flagship campus in College Station, the event provided an opportunity to focus on how universities contribute novel and game-changing research to promote global health and threat reduction. Over the course of the last 10 years, IIAD has made significant contributions to research on biological threats that could occur from intentional or accidental introduction of transboundary animal or zoonotic diseases.
In 2004, DHS awarded Texas A&M University the third Science and Technology Center of Excellence and the National Center for Foreign Animal Disease Defense (FAZD Center) was founded. Neville Clarke, DVM, Ph.D., Special Assistant to the Vice Chancellor for Agriculture, served as director of the Center from its founding until 2010 when Tammy Beckham, DVM, Ph.D., took over the director role. In 2014, the Center recognized the need for a portfolio with a broadened audience in the animal health realm and underwent a name change to become the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases.
“From the beginning, IIAD has worked to become a nationally and internationally recognized entity that addresses critical challenges associated with livestock and human health,” said Beckham. “However, the Institute no longer merely focused on the impact of agricultural bioterrorism. In order to support the larger mission of DHS in supporting critical infrastructure, emergency response and the economy, the Institute has expanded to encompass robust programs in disease discovery, information technology, knowledge products, and education and training curriculums focused on a global health mission.”
The Institute brought in experts to discuss a global health focus, including Terry McElwain, DVM, Ph.D., Associate Director and Regents Professor at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, who served as the evening’s keynote speaker.
McElwain shared data from an ongoing study in Western Kenya that shows the impact of animal health on household health and well being, and as a result, on global security. The study is also investigating the relationship of animal health, protein consumption, childhood malnutrition and cognitive development – something that is incredibly important in the early stages of life and can make a huge impact in factors, such as education, that can positively contribute to the next generation in these countries.
Earlier in the day, Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, Coordinator for Threat Reductions Program for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, shared insight on the role universities play in threat reduction. IIAD champions the One Health concept - which recognizes the relationship between animal, human and environmental health – by performing research and developing technology to help address disease challenges at the intersection of animal and human health.
“The One Health approach will help bridge existing gaps between animal and human health,” said Jenkins. “Dialogue can help play an important role. Universities can help by developing a dialogue amongst students in the different disciplines to promote One Health at an earlier stage in one’s education and career.”
A critical means for reducing proliferation and terrorism threats to the U.S. is through global technical engagement and the development of sustainable technologies for international biorisk management. Key elements of the Institute’s portfolio support the DHS mission to reduce threats to the homeland and improve preparedness and response for the agricultural sector by helping to detect and control disease spread in endemic countries.
In the agricultural sector, it’s important to minimize the economic damage of foreign animal diseases, said Elizabeth Lautner, DVM, M.S., Associate Deputy Administrator for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Veterinary Services’ Science, Technology and Analysis Services. Minimizing this impact can be done through improving business continuity, awareness, detection, communication and response time.
“This is a continual process,” said Lautner. “We have to continually look at our toolkit and see what can be done to improve it. Emerging disease preparedness and response require the input, collaboration and cooperation of multiple partners.”
McElwain, Jenkins and Lautner joined Clarke in a panel focusing on the challenges faced in infrastructure, security and resources when it comes to responding to transboundary and emerging threats. Gerry Parker, DVM, Ph.D., Vice President of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the Texas A&M Health Science Center, served as moderator.
“Over the past 10 years, the Institute has grown tremendously, with expanding partnerships that have enabled the development of cutting-edge research and an evolving strategic vision to deliver products that meet stakeholder needs,” Beckham said. “We truly value our partnerships across academia, government, and industry and through these partnerships have established a relevant scientific and applied research portfolio that has made significant contributions towards addressing the complex challenges facing the global animal and public health communities.”
The Institute would like to thank the following organizations for sponsoring the event: the Texas A&M University System; Texas A&M AgriLife Research; Texas A&M University Division of Research; National Pork Board; Merial, Ltd; National Pork Producers Council; Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases; National Cattlemen’s Beef Association; VMRD; and Micronics, Inc.
Headquartered in College Station, Texas, IIAD was founded in 2004 as a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Center of Excellence. The Institute focuses on research, education and outreach to prevent, detect, mitigate and recover from transboundary, emerging and/or zoonotic diseases, which may be introduced intentionally or through natural processes. In 2014, IIAD was recognized by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) as a Collaborating Centre in the specialty of biological threat reduction. IIAD is the only centre of this kind in OIE’s America’s region and the only OIE Collaborating Centre within the Texas A&M University System. For more information, visit iiad.tamu.edu.