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College of Veterinary Medicine awarded NIH grant to combat zoonotic disease

Closeup of Tom Kawula
Tom Kawula

Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine has been awarded a National Institutes of Health T32 grant that will provide $2.1 million over five years to continue support of an infectious disease and microbial immunology post-doctoral training program. 

The college’s training program, established in 1989 and one of the longest-supported NIH training programs in the country, is designed to prepare its fellows to address critical knowledge gaps in zoonotic infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance emergence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, zoonotic diseases, or those which are transmitted from animals to humans, are very common, both in the United States and around the world. Scientists estimate more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals, and 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to continue training scientists and increase our knowledge of zoonotic diseases,” said Dr. Tom Kawula, who leads the program and serves as director of the Paul G. Allen School for Global Health and graduate education in the college. “Human diseases are often transmitted by animals, and we need to pay attention to that connection between animals and humans with respect to infectious disease.”

Post-doctoral fellows in the program are a mix of veterinarians seeking doctorates and recent doctoral graduates with expertise in cell biology, genetics, epidemiology, immunology or microbiology. This integration provides a dynamic training environment where post-DVM fellows develop the basic research skills required to address and solve complex diseases, while post-doctorate fellows develop specific expertise with microbial pathogens and a broader and deeper understanding of the global health relevance and impact. 

The program supports five fellows at a time, with each committed to up to three years of support. Fellows are provided a stipend and research support.

Fellows are mentored by a team of leading faculty from the Allen School, Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology, the School of Molecular Biosciences, and other colleges, providing expertise from a broad range of disciplines.

“Given the focus of the Allen School and the faculty in the veterinary school and throughout the College of Veterinary Medicine, there are a lot of researchers here concentrating on zoonotic diseases and conducting cutting-edge molecular biology research, providing a great environment to train science’s next generation of innovators and leaders,” Kawula said.

The National Institutes of Health awards National Research Service Award Institutional Research Training Grants (T32) to graduate-level academic institutions for training predoctoral and postdoctoral candidates. T32s are awarded for five-year periods, and programs must reapply at the conclusion of the funding term to receive additional support.

“It is a very strong statement about the commitment and quality of training that has gone on here over the years that the program continues to receive grant funding from the NIH,” Kawula said. “When you go in for renewal, the programs are very much judged on what previous trainees have accomplished. Were they successful? Did they get their own independent funding? Are they now out in the scientific community and contributing to the research community?”

Kawula said a number of past fellows are now faculty members at prestigious academic institutions or high-ranking staff scientists in government labs and the private sector.

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