Examples of Opportunities for Veterinary Research to Safeguard and Improve Human and Animal Health
In June 1999, an unusual number of dead birds were reported in the borough of Queens, New York City. Some 6-8 weeks later, an unusual number of human cases of encephalitis were noted in a local hospital. The human disease was diagnosed as St. Louis encephalitis, which is a mosquito-borne viral encephalitis that does not produce disease in birds. The misdiagnosis was not recognized until 2-3 weeks later when the animal and human disease data were integrated. West Nile virus was then identified as the causative agent of both bird and human deaths. The lives and dollars that might have been saved by knowing 6 weeks earlier that a new deadly arbovirus had been introduced to North America cannot be estimated. An early awareness of this now costly emergent disease might have increased the likelihood of its eradication because its geographic footprint was much smaller before it spread to humans. Even if it could not be eradicated, the impact of West Nile virus could have been lessened if veterinary research had been better integrated with human medicine.
The Asian H5N1 avian influenza epizootic began in Hong Kong in 1997 with cases on poultry farms in March, April, and May. The first human case occurred in May, but the diagnosis of avian influenza was delayed by 3 months because of inadequate interaction between veterinary and public-health officials. Since late 2003, Asian H5N1 avian influenza has emerged as the largest exotic poultry health crisis of the last 50 years; so far, it has involved the death or preemptive culling of over 200 million poultry. The virus has also caused severe disease and death in humans. Veterinary medical research in epidemiology, vaccinology, diagnostics, and pathogenesis is recognized as critical for the control of the virus, its eradication from birds, and prevention of human infections. Additional research is needed to improve protection against the next major zoonotic outbreak and a potential pandemic of influenza.
The pharmaceutical enterprise screens millions of molecules per year in the process of developing candidate drugs. Only a few candidate drugs prove to be safe and effective; only 350 new drugs, biologics, and vaccines were approved in the last decade. A major bottleneck in the process is the lack of satisfactory test systems for preclinical trials. Veterinary science could offer powerful solutions to development of pharmaceutical products through sound basic and translational research on animal biology, genomics, proteomics, genetically modified animal models, integrative physiology, and spontaneous diseases of animals if adequate resources were available.