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Tackling infections that pass from animals to humans

24 January 2023

Stock image of coronavirus

The next generation of scientists will be better able to predict, detect and control viruses that jump from animals to humans thanks to major new funding.

A total of £6.6m has been awarded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Medical Research Council (MRC) and other partners to establish a Centre for Doctoral Training based at Cardiff University.

Led by Professor Joanne Cable of the University’s School of Biosciences, the new Centre will focus on training scientists to understand the environmental drivers of zoonoses – illnesses such as Covid-19 and Ebola - that are caused by pathogens (viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms) that move from animals to humans.

Currently, over 60% of current or emerging human infections originate from animals, costing the global economy over $60 billion yearly.

Under the funding, a new generation of scientists will be trained in a ‘one health’ approach – a framework that crosses scientific boundaries by bringing together researchers from anthropology to computer science, and from human health to zoology, to provide the breadth of knowledge needed to prevent future pandemics.

Scientists will explore how issues such as loss of biodiversity, climate change and wildlife exploitation are driving the rising trend in zoonotic diseases, and develop integrated solutions from public health, veterinary science and environmental fields to help prevent future outbreaks.

Professor Cable said: “The Covid-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how a zoonotic pathogen can effectively bring our world to a standstill and collapse the global economy. Prevention is clearly more cost effective than control but remains an elusive goal.

“Our Doctoral Training programme, One Health for One Environment: an A-Z Approach for Tackling Zoonoses, aims to provide the next generation of scientists with the skills and expertise to meet this global challenge.

The Centre will open in September 2023 and will unite experts in zoonotic diseases and environmental sciences from Cardiff University, Aberystwyth University, Queen’s University Belfast, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Professor Cable added: “By working collectively and across disciplines, we can ensure that new researchers start their career in science ready to tackle this urgent issue. We aim to equip then with the skills they need to ensure they can play a pivotal societal role in preventing and managing future pandemics.”

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