Somewhere in rural Africa, cows are dying from a tick-borne disease. Not only does the loss mean hunger, increased labor and further poverty for farm families, but their children are compelled to work and can no longer attend school.
Guy Palmer, director of the newly established WSU School for Global Animal Health (SGAH), hopes to prevent such diseases by producing inexpensive vaccines that would not only help save the cattle but lead to improvements in human health and well-being.
His efforts are but one example of the goals under SGAH’s overarching mission to provide innovative solutions to global infectious disease challenges at the animal-human interface. The outcome could affect the global food supply and economic security.
“Humans are inextricably linked to animals, whether for food, work or for companionship,” said Warwick Bayly, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. “Solving the challenge of global poverty is not possible without a focus on animals.”
The School hopes to decrease the impact of infectious disease on animal and human health through vaccine development, emerging pathogen and disease detection, and control of zoonotic diseases — those transmittable from animals to humans.
WSU Today asked university officials a few questions about the new SGAH and where they go from here.
WSUT: What does this week mean to you and your colleagues?
Palmer: “This is an exciting time for us — not only for those currently involved in launching the school but for those who laid the scientific and philosophic foundation, most notably (retired) James Henson and Travis McGuire.
They were the ones who developed the initial strong animal health linkages between WSU and institutions in Africa.
“I would also like to emphasize that this would not be possible without the research expertise within the CVM led by Wendy Brown, Kelly Brayton, Tom Besser, Bill Sischo and Terry McElwain.”
WSUT: The $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is to help construct the $35 million research building for the SGAH. Can you tell us where the building will be located?
Palmer: “While the final site has not been determined, a leading proposed site is adjacent to the current Animal Diseases Biotechnology Facility and Veterinary Teaching Hospital.”
Warwick Bayly, dean, CVM: “The project will be handled through Capital Planning and Development. A construction date has not yet been determined … It is going into the design phase which will take a year or longer.”
WSUT: Do you know where additional funding for the school will come from?
President Elson S. Floyd: “We are working aggressively to secure funding from the Legislature and other sources as well.”
WSUT: Do you have a target date for the school to open?
Palmer: “With the recent approval of the Board of Regents, we will now begin operating as a school. Although we are building off a base of expertise within the CVM, to meet our mission we will need to incorporate additional expertise in economics, international outreach, communications, animal health policy and other areas.”
WSUT: Will all SGAH research be carried out in Pullman?
Palmer: “The school will do research in Pullman … but will place a high priority on integration with ongoing global health efforts led by institutions within the state. We have formal research programs in place with the Washington Vaccine Alliance — including the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center, UW, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PATH, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and the Infectious Disease Research Institute.”
WSUT: Is the WSU School for Global Animal Health one of a kind?
Palmer: “The recognition of the importance of animals as reservoirs for disease transmission to humans is certainly not limited to WSU. The University of Liverpool National Centre for Zoonosis Research illustrates this as does the “One Medicine” intiative between the American Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“The SGAH is unique in focusing not only on the study of zoonoses but also on … the health of animals on which the world’s rural poor are heavily dependent economically. The loss of a single animal can make the difference as to whether a child’s education continues. The SGAH is currently the only such institution in North America.”
WSUT: What are some of the diseases the SGAH will be targeting?
GP: “WSU researchers are working to develop vaccines against some of the most debilitating animal pathogens in the tropics, including tickborne diseases such as Anaplasma and Babesia. Other researchers are studying and monitoring pathogens such as E.coli, Salmonella and Listeria, which infect both people and animals.”
$25M Gates Foundation grant
WSU this week received a $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help construct the $35 million School for Global Animal Health building.
It was the largest private gift in the university’s history. According to their website, “Bill and Melinda Gates believe every life has equal value. In 2000, they created the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help reduce inequities in the United States and around the world.”