Network for the prevention and control of zonoses
Med-Vet-Net (MVN) is a five-year EUfunded project (2004-2009) targeted at the development of a Network of Excellence (NoE) for the integration of veterinary, medical and food sciences, in the field of food safety, at European level. It is based on a 'virtual institute' structure comprising 15 public health and veterinary institutes in 10 countries plus a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) to disseminate knowledge, and encompasses the activities of over 300 scientists.
The activities of MVN have been implemented within a series of Work Packages (WPs) with three overarching WPs and a range of scientific activities falling within four key thematic areas: epidemiology; detection and control; host-microbe interactions; and risk research. Within these thematic areas there are a number of scientific WPs encompassing a wide range of scientific topics and organisms of major medical and veterinary importance. High priority is afforded to training and there is a well-attended annual three-day scientific conference, with both invited speakers and speakers from within the network.[+] Read More
Of the more than 1 400 microbes known to cause infectious disease in humans, over 60% are transmissible from animals. Many of these infections occur following consumption of contaminated food products or from direct contact with food-producing animals. The resurgence of diseases, such as bovine tuberculosis, and the emergence of new infections, much as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and avian influenza, serve as a reminder of the importance of animals in human disease.
Within Europe, research on zoonotic diseases has, to a large extent, been fragmented, with major divisions between researchers in human and veterinary medicine. This fragmentation has been emphasised by separate education, training and research institutes, and compounded by different governmental ministries for animal and human health, with different strategies and overall direction.
A further contributory factor has been the discrepancies in the overall direction of research, with veterinary objectives often linked to the enhancement of food production, whereas research in human medicine may be more directed to the health of the patient and community. Although some countries in Europe have attempted to bring together research in the spheres of veterinary and human medicine, further integration is essential in order to develop meaningful intervention strategies.
MVN seeks to develop an NoE in order to improve research on the prevention and control of zoonoses, including food-borne diseases, whilst taking into account the public health concerns of consumers and other stakeholders throughout the food chain.
The network brings together researchers and public health experts in diverse agricultural and public health environments in the field of food safety throughout the European Union, with several overall objectives: (1) enhancing an understanding of transmission routes of pathogens from animals to humans, and of complex host-pathogen interactions; (2) increasing knowledge of the contribution of external factors such as the use of antimicrobials in their development and spread; (3) developing methods for the rapid identification of zoonotic food-borne pathogens and their routes of transmission and spread; and (4) producing meaningful risk assessments of key contributory factors in both human and veterinary medicine.
A further aim of the NoE is to enhance communication between scientists in the fields of human and veterinary medicine in order to promote an understanding of the driving forces in their work and fields of expertise. New and re-emerging threats to the health of humans and food animals can be rapidly recognised as a precursor to the development of appropriate intervention strategies at European level.
The activities of MVN have been implemented within a series of WPs. There are three overarching WPs with different responsibilities: Virtual Institute structure (WP1); Strategic Scientific Integration (WP2); and Spreading Excellence (WP3). WP1 is led by the Administration Bureau responsible for the administrative and financial aspects of the network, and also has responsibility for the project finances, reporting and developing and taking forward proposals for sustainability. WP2 is led by the Project Manager and has responsibility for scientific coordination and strategic planning, development of research skills, inter-network scientific communications and extension of the network by external collaborations. WP3 is led by the Communications Unit and is responsible for the strategy for network communications, involving coordination of all aspects of communicating information about the activities of the network to the scientific community and other key stakeholders by means of regular newsletters, a web-based notice board, annual reports and training.
The scientific activities fall within four key thematic areas: epidemiology; detection and control; host-microbe interactions; and risk research. Within these thematic areas there are a number of scientific WPs (31 in total, WP4 to WP34), some of which have been completed, some of which are ongoing, and some of which are scheduled to start later in 2008. The scientific WPs cover several areas: development of a linked molecular surveillance database system for food-borne pathogens; molecular epidemiology of European bat Lyssaviruses; development and application of geographical information systems (GIS) for key food-borne pathogens; pathogenesis of Vero cytotoxinproducing Escherichia coli; identification of molecular markers for pathogenicity in Salmonella, Escherichia coli and Campylobacter jejuni; validation and standardisation of PCR methods for pathogen detection and quantitative risk assessment; formation of European networks for Trichinella and Cryptosporidium; harmonisation of Trichinella infection control; integrating risk assessment; epidemiology and economics to support decision making in food safety, pre-harvest risk assessment; molecular epidemiology of resistance genes in Salmonella; surveillance of emerging antimicrobial resistance; prioritisation of food-borne and zoonotic hazards at EU level; improvement of diagnostics for Q fever, host-microbe interactions in Campylobacter; food animals as a source of viral zoonoses; and Campylobacter risk assessment.
Each scientific WP holds meetings to discuss and decide priorities, and all WPs follow programmes of strictly monitored milestones. Regular publication of results is encouraged and to date over 100 papers have been published in scientific journals. Additionally, a number of 'Special Interest' groups have convened in areas such as new, emerging and neglected zoonoses, Lyssaviruses, host pathogen interactions and Campylobacter epidemiology. High priority is afforded to training, with training workshops held within and between WPs, with exchange programmes (short-term missions) and with support for attendance at relevant scientific conferences. A further key activity of the network is an annual three-day scientific conference, with both invited speakers and speakers from within the network. So far, three conferences have been held: Italy, Malta and the UK have hosted them, with a fourth scheduled to take place in France in June 2008 and a fifth in Spain in 2009.