One to One: November 2017

From the Director

CAHFS director, Andres PerezLike a River, CAHFS is Ever-Changing

“No man ever steps in the same river twice.”

As I am attending the Allen D. Leman Swine Conference in St. Paul with a stunning view of the Mississippi river, I am reflecting on change and these words from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus come to mind. My hometown, Rosario, Argentina, where I got my DVM degree 20 years ago, sits next to the Parana river, which, similarly to the Mississippi River, is one of the 10 longest rivers in the world. Those of us raised in riverine locations certainly understand the meaning of the old Greek saying. A river holds features that define its character, and, at the same time, every season and every day is different in a river.

In 2017, the Leman conference was organized for the first time in many years, without our colleague and friend, the late Bob Morrison, who tragically left us in May while sitting in the conference’s driver seat. Like a river, this year’s conference was the same, but different. The program was outstanding, as usual, with almost 1000 attendees and many swine experts delivering world-class lectures. Yet without Bob, it was different and the conference was flooded by emotions and memories of our friend and mentor. The University of Minnesota swine faculty group gave all of us a powerful lesson on how to navigate change.

Changes, those that are desired and expected and those that are not, are always challenging, and always provide unique opportunities. In my new role as director of CAHFS, I am expecting that nothing, and at the same time everything, will change. I look forward to maintaining, expanding and looking for new directions for CAHFS’ hallmark programs initiated and led by previous directors. These include the Veterinary Public Health and Preventive Medicine Residency program, and the first World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) Veterinary Education Twinning Project in partnership with Chiang Mai University in Thailand.

At the same time, I look forward to changes in the operation and vision of the Center. Emerging opportunities include a growing partnership with the OIE collaborating center in Buenos Aires (CEBASEV), and the first continental capacity building program worldwide, initiated by the partnership (ProgRESSVet), both highlighted in this issue of our newsletter.

Additionally, CAHFS will expand its expertise in a number of disciplines, incorporating to its body of affiliated faculty a number of experts in the areas of quantitative data analysis; dairy, swine, wildlife and fish health; quality control and assurance; and diagnostics for analysis of selected agents, feed, and environmental health.

I believe such an expansion will greatly enhance our stakeholder services, with the ultimate objective of protecting and promoting the health and well-being of our state and nation. Like a river, I expect that CAHFS will simultaneously be different and the same. Changes are always exciting. In the words of Mark Twain, who mastered the art of capturing the nature and character of rivers and people: “apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today.”

Collaborative Training Program Limits Spread of Infectious Animal Diseases

ProgRESSVet Students

As agricultural trade has become vital to the economies of many countries (including the United States), it’s more important than ever that veterinarians around the world are able to recognize and control animal diseases in their own countries to prevent their spread to animals and humans in other countries, with grave effects on international commerce.

But many countries lack key professional institutions, staff, and skills to identify, track, and control dangerous animal diseases. Now, a University of Minnesota program, ProgRESSVet, is helping to build professional capabilities in several Latin American countries.

After ten years of “conversations over coffees and beers” with colleagues in Latin America, Andres Perez, professor in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine and director of the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety, has worked with CEBASEV in his native Argentina to start the extensive training program.

CEBASEV (Centro Buenos Aires para la Capacitación de los Servicios Veterinarios) is a training center founded by the National Service of Food Safety and Quality, and the National Institute of Agricultural Technology. The center’s mission is continuing education of staff of the Spanish-speaking Veterinary Services and other public and private agencies in Argentina.

Perez, who directs the ProgRESSVet program with Emilio León, co-director of CEBASEV, says they tried to avoid the shortcomings of previous consultant-driven training programs, which were in short duration and often poorly coordinated. ProgRESSVet, by contrast, is long-duration, more comprehensive, and based on international standards for veterinarians developed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (known by the historic acronym OIE).

Working through the OIE, ProgRESSVet has relied on professional networks to recruit 10 mid-career students from six Latin American countries to take the eight-course online program, which includes modules on introduction to intergovernmental organizations, statistics, epidemiology, spatial analysis (such as mapping of disease spread), risk analysis, organization and administration of veterinary services, veterinary public health, and national and international veterinary policy. Each course is co-instructed by a professor from the University of Minnesota and one from Latin America.

“We want to help countries prevent, control and eradicate diseases; and that’s important, it’s actually a requirement to facilitate trade between countries,” says Perez. “And trade is the way in which many developing countries, with the right policy in place, could reach development. That’s important for U.S. industry as well, as many investments these days are based overseas and trade is interconnected among regions. So, the mission of the program is to create that capacity in the countries so they can prevent, control and eradicate diseases and therefore facilitate trade.

ProgRESSVet participants will graduate this year. The program is recruiting a similar number of students for next year, with plans to increase numbers in the future.

ProgRESSVet—the name combines the English for “progress” and Spanish for Programa Regional de Educación Sistemática de Servicios Veterinarios—hopes program participants “are the people who want to step into leadership roles in the veterinary service,” says Mary Katherine O’Brien, University of Minnesota researcher for education and outreach in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Besides building capacity among our agricultural trading partners, the program will enhance the University’s already formidable international reputation, provide international opportunities for students, and allow University faculty to study unfamiliar diseases that might someday arrive on our shores.

The ProgRESSVet training is built on the One Health paradigm that links “connections between animal, human and environmental health, and systems theory,” says O’Brien. “As the world gets smaller and more connected, there is extreme value in understanding the way that people are working, trying to build capacity, and trying to understand educational models across contexts.”

Andres Perez Profile

Andres Perez discusses research with colleague

Twenty years ago as a student working on a degree in veterinary medicine at the Universidad Nacional de Rosario in Argentina, Andres Perez hardly imagined he would eventually be working at the University of Minnesota. But he did, in fact, know about the U: Its veterinary college was respected by experts from around the world.

Today, Perez is one of the experts helping to burnish and grow the U’s reputation. In 2014, after a decade spent at the University of California–Davis where he served as director of the center for Animal Disease Modeling and Surveillance, Perez joined the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, adding a new dimension to U’s research. A specialist in the field of spatial epidemiology and modeling, Perez utilizes digital tools and models to track, project, and prevent the spread of disease.

“I’ve always been interested in how you can measure biology so you can make predictions,” he says. “Initially, when you’re gathering data on diseases everything looks chaotic. But then you apply science to those data, and you discover you can come up with an answer that’s quantifiable and understandable.”

Perez focused on bovine tuberculosis for his PhD, but his interests currently center on diseases affecting swine. A global industry, swine production can be significantly impacted by the spread of disease—quickly racing from one country to another if safeguards and monitors aren’t in place. The World Organization for Animal Health has designated the U as one of five centers around the world capable of collaborating to build capacity for handling disease outbreaks.

In addition to teaching applied epidemiology at the CVM, Perez spends a good portion of his time back home in Argentina, where he is working with 14 participants from six countries in the region to strengthen veterinary care throughout South America.

“The industry is interconnected and the world is much more complex than it used to be,” Perez says. “The food system is only as strong as its weakest player. We have to partner and collaborate if we want to ensure the safety of the entire industry.”

Improving industry safety means finding money to help the poorest players as well. In addition to conducting research and consulting with companies, Perez is building a network for collaborative research that would allow scientists to access sources of funding from across Latin America, rather than just from their own country.

“It’s important that we think about these issues in the broader, global sense,” Perez says. “Diseases don’t have borders, so we have to think outside the lines in developing solutions too.”