OVC Awarded Million-Dollar Public Health Chair

June 03, 2008 - News Release

The University of Guelph is poised to play a greater role in public health thanks to a prestigious research chair worth nearly $1 million awarded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Prof. Jan Sargeant, director of the Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses and a faculty member in the Department of Population Medicine in the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), received one of 14 Applied Public Health Chairs awarded nationwide today.

"We were the only veterinary college awarded funding, which was quite exciting," Sargeant said. "Most emerging diseases that pose a threat to human health originate in animal populations, whether it's avian flue or new strains of antibiotic-resistant 'superbugs.' Veterinarians are therefore uniquely equipped to investigate and come up with solutions to some of the critical health issues of today.”

She added that the chair complements the U of G’s Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses. Created in 2006, the centre promotes research by innovative scientists in a variety of disciplines working to solve problems in public health at the human/animal interface.

Sargeant's chair, worth $185,000 a year for five years, is supported by CIHR, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Centre de recherche en prévention de l'obésité. The three agencies created the program to stimulate innovation in public health intervention research, to educate and mentor the next generation of public health researchers, and to support research of national relevance.

"Our secret is finally out: veterinarians are public health professionals," said OVC dean Elizabeth Stone. "The Ontario Veterinary College has been helping to protect human health and well-being for nearly 150 years. Part of OVC's overall vision is to respond to the changing demands on the profession and help change how society values veterinarians and the work we do, and this type of recognition is key to helping bring about this mind shift."

Sargeant agrees, saying there's a great need to integrate animal health and public health research and to get people to understand how intricately they are connected. "It can be difficult because zoonoses itself is such a weird word. I always start by telling people that we are talking about diseases that jump between animals and humans, and that 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic."

As an Applied Public Health Chair, she will form teams of people from agriculture, government and animal and human health to address public health issues that relate to zoonotic diseases.

"The plan is to start with food-borne diseases like E. coli O157:H7, which is what caused the Walkterton water crisis, Salmonella and Campylobacter and move on to non-food-borne zoonoses as both our research and the centre evolve," she said.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or l.hunt@exec.uoguelph.ca, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982 or d.healey@exec.uoguelph.ca.

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