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Message from the Dean
During the past year, we have witnessed a variety of new and old diseases coming to the fore, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), West Nile virus, and monkey pox. These, combined with previously existing disease threats, make us very aware of the continuing danger infectious diseases pose to human populations worldwide, including here in the United States where we can sometimes feel removed from the diseases that threaten the rest of the planet.
At the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, we are heavily invested in research programs that address the diseases posing the greatest threat to humankind today - tuberculosis, cancer, HIV/AIDS, arthropod-borne infectious diseases, and more. Our newer studies in prion-based diseases are beginning to answer questions that five years ago hadn't even been asked. We are active in West Nile research and vaccine development. Although we are most well-known for our work in veterinary medical research, our biomedical programs are actually the larger of our two areas of expertise. What is perhaps unique to this College is how our dual focus-veterinary medicine and biomedical sciences-- enhances the quality of both programs by bringing together experts and resources which, when combined, are able to fight enemies of the body with the powers of the mind.
The College is home to the Mycobacterium Research Laboratory which has carved a global niche for itself as a center of excellence in tuberculosis and leprosy research. In 2003, tuberculosis claimed the lives of two million people. Worldwide, two billion people are infected with the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. Researchers at the laboratory are working at many levels to understand M. tuberculosis, assaying drugs used in the treatment of TB, and collaborating with scientists from around the world to develop more effective vaccine and treatment programs. You can read more about this program and get an update on other innovative research enterprises in a related story in the edition of Insight looking at some current research at the College.
The College also is home to an innovative HIV research program that is looking at changing stem cells to make the body's immune system resistant to HIV infection (see related story). HIV/AIDS remains a pandemic of most frightening proportions. Worldwide, 65 million people are HIV-positive. United Nations AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that there are 5 million new cases of HIV each year. In 2002 alone, approximately 3.1 million people died of HIV/AIDS. When President Bush visited Africa this summer, we saw the face of AIDS on our televisions. The United States has committed $15 billion over the next 5 years to fight AIDS in Africa. It will help, but our battle is just beginning.
At the College, we also house the Arthropod-Borne and Infectious Diseases Laboratory (AIDL). As West Nile virus once again took over headlines this summer, we were reminded of the intricate relationship between humans and the mosquitoes with which they share the earth. Researchers at AIDL not only study diseases transmitted by arthropods, they also study the arthropods themselves to see if they can unlock a door that will one day lead them to alter mosquitoes so they are not capable of spreading disease.
It seems at times that the diseases are getting ahead of us and we can do little to stop the death and destruction that comes in the wake of a major outbreak, but we are making progress. In August, scientists announced they had developed a high-speed vaccine for the dreaded Ebola virus. The vaccine has been shown to give macaque monkeys protection from Ebola after one injection. Scientists from the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases believe the vaccine will be safe and effective in humans as well, offering immunity in as little as four weeks after vaccination.
Breakthroughs such as this do not happen easily. Science must develop understanding to the point where such an event is possible. This only happens through persistence, years of research, basic and applied scientific studies, and a bit of luck. At the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, we are proud to be a part of the global scientific community that is bringing hope to people the world over in the form of improved medicine, better vaccines, and lives filled with joy instead of suffering. As supporters of the College, each of you is a part of that as well.
Lance Perryman, D.V.M., Ph.D.