Report from Washington
A recent Washington Post story picked up by the Roanoke Times touches on what is a fairly new phrase, though it has long been accepted as a concept: the “One Health” concept, which the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) describes as recognizing “…that the health of humans is connected to the health of animals and the environment.”
For further explanation, the CDC notes, “Since the 1800s, scientists have noted the similarity in disease processes among animals and humans, but human and animal medicine were practiced separately until the 20th century. In recent years, through the support of key individuals and vital events, the One Health concept has gained more recognition in the public health and animal health communities.
In its story entitled “How rare sheep from biblical times may help kids with a deadly genetic disease,” the Washington Post tells of two newborn lambs that, in 1999, became ill, quickly declined in health, and soon died soon after.
The lambs were of a rare breed known as Jacob sheep, and efforts to determine why they died, according to the story, “… ultimately helped advance research into Tay-Sachs, a genetic disease that affects humans as well as animals.” This is a rare disease for which there currently is no cure. Sadly, it often kills children before they reach the age of five.
Now, “…scientists are fine-tuning new therapy that has extended life spans in diseased Jacob sheep and in cats. And the Tay-Sachs Gene Therapy Consortium plans to seek federal approval to begin clinical trials on humans next year.”
This new therapy presents a ray of hope where there previously wasn’t one.
Similar work relating to the One Health concept is being undertaken right in our backyard, as the Ninth Congressional District is one of the few Congressional district to have two veterinary schools. While Lincoln Memorial University’s College of Veterinary Medicine (LMU-VCM) is technically accredited in Tennessee, its veterinary school is located in Ewing, which is just over the Tennessee line in Lee County.
The Virginia–Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM), which is affiliated with Virginia Tech, has a robust biomedical sciences research program. Among its areas of emphasis are infectious diseases (particularly viral infections), auto-immune diseases, regenerative medicine, oncology, and neurology, much of which involves animal models of disease.
While we regrettably do not have unlimited space in which to highlight every individual involved in this work, VMRCVM professor Dr. X.J. Meng was recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences, which is among the highest honors given to scientists in the United States.
He was elected for his work in virology, which included diseases that are zoonotic, meaning they affect both animals and humans. He is considered one of the world’s leading scientists in hepatitis E virus, porcine circovirus type 2, and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, and his discovery of the swine hepatitis E virus in pigs led to the recognition of hepatitis E as a zoonotic disease.
Additionally, the Lincoln Memorial University’s College of Veterinary Medicine (LMU-CVM) has made One Health courses an integral part of its curriculum. Its researchers work on a number of animal diseases relevant from a human health perspective.
As an example, one researcher is examining the mechanisms that leptospirosis—a bacterial disease affecting both humans and animals—and Lyme disease-causing bacteria employ in order to successfully infect their hosts. This research has identified several virulence factors, which are being evaluated for their usefulness as diagnostic and vaccine candidates.
Other LMU-CVM research involves cancer and equine asthma, which may eventually add to our understanding of diseases in people.
This ongoing One Health research as well as our ongoing efforts at the federal level through the 21st Century Cures initiative (more information can be found on my website) to find cures for the more than 10,000 known diseases or conditions is helping to provide hope to patients, and I know it is making a difference.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at (276) 525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at (540) 381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.