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LIDC and Partners Win Grant to Study Ecology of Diseases Affecting Both Animals and Humans

A diverse group of researchers involving LIDC, UK and overseas partners will examine how changing patterns of livestock production and movement affect the spread into human populations of diseases that are shared between livestock and people. Academics from two of LIDC’s member Colleges – Royal Veterinary College, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – are participating in the new interdisciplinary network focusing on hotspots of these diseases in Asia.
International collaboration
A £50,000 catalyst grant awarded under a new joint initiative on Environmental and Social Ecology of Infectious Diseases (ESEI) run by four UK research councils will allow the partners  to develop research networks and strategies for future projects with international impact. The grant will fund three workshops and collaborative activities for the next nine months between partners in the UK (Imperial College London, LSE, and STEPS Centre, Sussex), Thailand (Mahidol University, Bangkok) and the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance. Collaborators in the Mekong Basin countries will be an important part of the network. This process will generate a full proposal on a similar theme for a grant of up to £10m as part of the ESEI scheme, which is financed jointly by the Medical Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The initiative establishes an interdisciplinary approach to studying the ecology of infectious diseases,  in response to the unprecedented rate of change in our world. Changing patterns of zoonotic disease (diseases transmitted  between animals and humans) mean that we need a better understanding to inform international and national policies on outbreak preparedness and control. 

Despite the complex interactions between animal and human health and their far-reaching social and economic consequences, there has been little coordination of animal, agricultural and public health policy on zoonotic diseases. The network of international researchers working with LIDC is attempting to bridge these different approaches, and includes experts from diverse disciplines, such as biology, ecology, economics, epidemiology, history and sociology.

Future health risks

The researchers’ initial work is based on the hypothesis that the rapidly changing nature of the production and movement of livestock and livestock products will increase the risk of zoonotic disease emergence and of pandemics in human populations. But animal production systems are in constant flux, affected by social change, economic growth, globalisation and trade. In Asia – the birthplace of bird flu (H5N1) and SARS,  and epicentre of the livestock revolution -  these production systems and associated human populations create hotspots where disease can potentially spread rapidly between humans.  What drives these complex situations will be the subject of the grant.
By Guy Collender, Senior Communications Officer at LIDC, and Dr Catherine Fletcher, Programme Development at LIDC