New Facility to Advance Public Health, Zoonoses Research

December 14, 2011 - News Release

The University of Guelph today opened a new research facility to help prevent and control emerging animal-related diseases that threaten public health.

Based at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), the new laboratories will support investigations by researchers in U of G’s Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses (CPHAZ). Scientists will use state-of-the-art equipment to address new or re-emerging zoonotic diseases (those that can jump between animals and humans) such as the H1N1 flu virus, bird flu, E. coli O157:H7 and West Nile virus.

“Scientists and public health experts are increasingly working together to protect the health of both animals and people, ” said OVC dean Elizabeth Stone.

“This new facility allows us to provide focus and leadership in solving important problems with zoonotic diseases and to disseminate this knowledge to inform policy decision-makers, animal industries and the public.”

Newly created laboratories and equipment in the facility were funded in part by a $1-million grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Ontario Research Fund.

“We are grateful to CFI and to the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation,” said Rich Moccia, associate vice-president (research). “Their investment will allow the University to continue its strong tradition of research and education in animal-related aspects of public health and collaborative partnerships.”

CPHAZ involves more than 40 U of G scientists, as well as government and industry collaborators. They investigate a variety of infectious diseases, including food-borne diseases and diseases affecting companion animals, food animals and wildlife.

The centre is directed by Jan Sargeant, a professor in OVC’s Department of Population Medicine and the holder of a $1-million Applied Public Health Chair funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Zoonotic diseases are a major public health threat worldwide, said Sargeant, and veterinarians are uniquely equipped to investigate and find solutions.

“Up to 75 per cent of emerging diseases that pose a threat to human health originate in animal populations, whether it’s avian flu or new strains of antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs,’” she said.

“We have an important role to play in developing knowledge and expertise in this area and integrating them in the public health system.”

Sargeant said the centre will expand its research in the new facilities, including laboratories for studying bacteria and molecules and “supercomputer” facilities for disease monitoring and surveillance, which is a joint effort with the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the College of Physical and Engineering Science.

Integrating research and surveillance efforts will help predict problems and understand and control infectious diseases, she said.

A cryo-storage facility will allow veterinarians to store collected samples that can be used in the future to develop and validate diagnostic tests, vaccines and virulence factors.

“It will build even stronger collaborations between researchers in different disciplines and allow us to conduct cutting-edge research that would not be possible without this resource,” said Sargeant.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or, or Shiona Mackenzie, Ext. 56982, or

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