New UK Centre for Zoonosis Research to open in Liverpool

The UK's National Centre for Zoonosis Research, dedicated to the study of animal-borne human diseases, will be opened at the University of Liverpool.

Zoonoses are diseases that originate in animals but can jump species and infect humans. The new centre – which will be opened by Lord David Owen, the University’s Chancellor, and Lord Lawson Soulsby, former President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and honorary graduate of the University – will be located at the University’s veterinary campus because of the importance of understanding these diseases in animals as well as people.

The Zoonosis Centre is funded by the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) and is a collaboration involving the University of Lancaster, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA).

Professor Malcolm Bennett, Veterinary Pathologist and Co-Director of the centre, said: “Diseases such as SARS and avian flu are examples of new and emerging zoonotic diseases that hit the headlines, but around two thirds of all human infections are transmitted from animals, and some of these can be very serious. Rabies, for example, still kills more than 50,000 people every year, mainly in developing countries, while closer to home, most cases of food poisoning are also caused by zoonoses.”

While many people associate zoonoses with wild or farm animals, pets can also be sources of important human infections, sometimes even with fatal consequences. Equally, however, human beings can sometimes be the source of animal infections.

Dr Chris Parry, Medical Microbiologist and Co-Director of the centre said: “Antibiotic resistance is a problem in many zoonotic bacteria, and this complicates the treatment of patients. The Centre brings together scientists with different backgrounds in order to tackle not just theoretical issues but very practical problems in disease control and management.”

Dr George Baxter, NWDA Director of Science and Innovation, said: “The NWDA is committed to developing and nurturing an internationally competitive knowledge base in the Northwest, which is why we invested £1.68 million into the Centre for Zoonosis Research through the Northwest Science Fund. “Through the expertise of the University of Liverpool, this new centre will help ensure that the region remains a leader in scientific innovation and significantly advance the Northwest’s research base.”

The Centre will be officially opened at the University’s Leahurst campus at Neston, Wirral on Wednesday, 12 December at 12.30pm. Members of the media are welcome at the event; please contact Samantha Martin on the number below if you plan to attend.

1. Current projects at the Centre include studies of:

Food-borne zoonoses (‘food poisoning’): researchers at the centre are studying how zoonotic bacteria survive in the abattoir and food chain to land on people’s plates; the role of behaviour in the transmission of food poisoning bacteria between farm animals, and between wildlife and farm animals, and the ecology of zoonotic bacteria in the environment.

Wildlife zoonoses: for example how bacteria and viruses circulate in wild animal populations; the factors that lead to them spilling over into people, and methods for the control of such transmission that don’t simply rely on culling the host

Emerging infections: most new and emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals, and the centre is interested in the factors that make some infections more likely to jump species and infect people.

Antibiotic resistance: antibiotic resistance is a growing problem in both human and veterinary medicine, but little is known about how and why resistance emerges. The Centre has several projects investigating the epidemiology of resistance in farm animals, wildlife, pets and people, and the treatment of patients infected with these multi-resistant bacteria.

Risk and risk management: for example what are the priority diseases that should concern us; what are the perceived and real risks of zoonotic diseases; why do people worry about some diseases more than others, and how should governments respond?

2. The University of Liverpool is one of the UK's leading research institutions. It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organisations valued at more than £100 million annually.

3. The Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) leads the economic development and regeneration of England's Northwest. It has helped businesses compete, revitalised urban and rural areas, promoted sustainability, improved regional infrastructure and facilitated innovation, as well as improving the quality of life in England's Northwest.

4. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is an independent body that protects the health and well-being of the population. The Agency plays a critical role in protecting people from infectious diseases and in preventing harm when hazards involving chemicals, poisons or radiation occur.

4. Lancaster is a top research university, consistently ranking highly in national league tables. Lancaster is one of the N8 group of research-intensive universities in the north and excels in interdisciplinary health research especially in medical statistics, end of life care and hospice studies. Lancaster has recently launched its new School of Health and Medicine which encompasses its health-related research and teaching.

5. The VLA is internationally recognised as a centre of excellence in veterinary research. They provide a wide range of applied research and consultancy, diagnosis and surveillance on livestock diseases to Government and commercial customers.

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