EU project sees vets and doctors joining forces against zoonoses

June 29, 2004

Brussels, 28 Jun 2004

A new Network of Excellence, MED-VET-NET, funded under the 'Food quality and safety' thematic priority of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) will, for the first time ever, unite medical and veterinary expertise in the fight against zoonoses.

Zoonoses are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people and are responsible for some of our most serious public health problems. Many are food borne and carried by domestic livestock, such as salmonella. Furthermore, research has found that nearly two-thirds of known human pathogens are zoonotic.

'Control of these diseases is being hampered by 'divisions' between the medical and veterinary sciences. Scientists monitoring outbreaks in humans appear to be out of touch with those who monitor the diseases on farms. Tracing sources and predicting outbreaks is difficult under any circumstances,' explained André Jestin, the project coordinator from the French Food Safety Agency. 'But for the first time under the Sixth Framework Programme, a Network of Excellence is connecting medical and veterinary expertise on all zoonoses, a move that will significantly improve our ability to understand and control these diseases.'

MED-VET-NET, which is to receive 15 million euro from the European Commission over the next five years, will involve 150 scientists from ten EU countries, and will lead to the development of a virtual institute for the integration of European veterinary, medical and food science.

At present, fragmentation of resources and expertise is a major problem in the study of zoonoses. Annually, tens of thousands of samples are collected from farms and hospitals by different institutes, but they are hardly ever compared. This lack of cooperation is not only evident in medical and veterinary studies, but also in branches of science representing different organism types, such as virology, bacteriology and parasitology. This is unfortunate as there are common themes in the dynamics of the diseases and common techniques for studying them. Some, like DNA sequencing, involve expensive equipment and generate huge amounts of data.

Thus, the aim of MED-VET-NET is to make better use of resources by sharing facilities internationally, centralising archives of reference material and standardising procedures to enable information to be pooled.

'The network will initiate joint research where international collaboration could be valuable - using 'Geographical Information Systems' to study the distribution of outbreaks across Europe, for example. MED-VET-NET will mean that no partner is without access to the best knowledge and facilities concerning all zoonoses. The team hopes the network will result in the setting up of a permanent international institute and centralised surveillance systems,' concluded Dr Jestin.

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André Jestin

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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