UGA has established a new multidisciplinary Faculty of Infectious Diseases to address infectious disease threats to animal and human health worldwide.
Research goals for the new faculty include increasing understanding of the basic biology of infectious agents, their interactions with human and animal hosts, their natural ecology and the epidemiology of the diseases they cause. Equally important, the new faculty will focus on the application of this knowledge to improving the detection, control and prevention of infectious diseases through countermeasures such as vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
“The Faculty of Infectious Diseases builds on a combination of historic strengths plus recent investments in faculty and infrastructure that position the university to be a major player nationally in the area of infectious diseases, especially zoonotic emerging infectious diseases,” said David Lee, vice president for research.
Zoonotic diseases affecting humans—including bird flu, West Nile virus, tularemia (also known as rabbit fever) and HIV—are diseases of animal origin. It has been estimated that nearly 75 percent of the world’s emerging or re-emerging infectious disease threats are zoonotic in nature.
“Dealing effectively with the pathogens that cause these diseases requires integrating research in animal and human health and developing successful counter-measures,” said Lee. “It also requires that researchers—faculty and students—from many different disciplines work together in collaborative, interdisciplinary teams.”
Formation of the Faculty of Infectious Diseases, an initiative of the Office of the Vice President for Research, coincides with several recent research developments in infectious diseases at UGA and in Georgia: the opening of the Animal Health Research Center, a state-of-the-art biocontainment facility for studies of animal and human health; the re-deployment of Riverbend South as an infectious disease research facility; and the recruitment of Egbert Mundt, one of the world’s foremost experts in poultry vaccines as GRA Eminent Scholar in poultry medicine.
In addition, UGA and Emory researchers last year received one of five Centers of Excellence in Influenza Research and Surveillance grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health to bolster understanding of how the influenza virus causes disease and how the human immune system responds to infection with the virus. The Georgia Research Alliance, a partnership of academic research universities, industry and state government, last year launched a statewide initiative for vaccine development, and UGA is leading the state’s bid to bring the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility to Athens. NBAF is a proposed national facility dedicated to research on foreign animal and zoonotic diseases.
Seven additional tenure track or tenured faculty positions, funded last year by the regents, will augment existing UGA expertise in infectious disease.
“Targeted recruitments of this magnitude are rare, and this initiative provides UGA with an exceptional opportunity both to build collaborative bridges between existing strengths and to expand in important new areas,” said Duncan Krause, professor of microbiology, and the director of the new Faculty of Infectious Diseases.
The new faculty is now recruiting members, with applications for spring due May 1. Full membership is open to UGA faculty, while faculty at other institutions, state and federal agencies, and industry partners that collaborate with UGA can apply for associate membership. Full members may apply for seed grants; associates may partner with full members in seeking seed grant funding. Companies involved in vaccine, therapeutic and diagnostics development and production may join the Faculty of Infectious Diseases as corporate members or sponsors.