Managing mosquito-borne viruses, such as West Nile, Dengue, Zika and tick-borne Lyme disease, have been a challenge due to a lack of resources, knowledge and trained expertise.
To better understand, prevent and treat diseases passed from insects to people, the Cornell University-led Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases will launch later this month, following a $10 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
The center will offer a new master's program and develop new courses for Cornell's master of public health degree to educate a cadre of vector biologists and public health practitioners. The center will also fund applied research while forging unique collaborations among academic institutions and public health organizations.
Cornell will serve as the hub for a team of medical entomologists, virologists, epidemiologists, ecologists, modelers and molecular biologists under the direction of entomology professor Laura Harrington. These experts come from Cornell's department of entomology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cooperative Extension and Agricultural Experiment Station, along with the New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory, New York State Integrated Pest Management, New York State Department of Health, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Connecticut Department of Health and other universities such as Columbia and Fordham.
The Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases will partly focus on conducting applied research to better prevent, control, monitor, track and respond to vector-borne disease outbreaks such as Zika and Lyme.
"There is little funding that is allocated for very practical vector biology and vector-borne disease research," Harrington said. The center will explore whether currently used control strategies for vector insects are effective in the region, design new control practices and investigate fundamental insect vector ecology and patterns of disease transmission in the region to develop better risk prevention strategies.
The center will have six applied research areas, called clusters, that include: predicting current and future infection risks in the region; investigating mosquito trapping methods; novel vector/pathogen interactions; overwintering biology of vectors, including climate change-induced effects; controlling and managing vectors, and basic field biology of mosquito vectors.
Beginning in the fall of 2018, the center will offer a new master's degree in public health entomology through the Cornell College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. Several of the new courses developed for the program will also be available for students in the new master of public health program administered by Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine.
"Our goal is to train the next generation to have the best possible knowledge and skills that they can apply to introduced threats or existing vector-borne disease threats," Harrington said.
The center will also offer a one-day "vector biology boot camp" intensive training for professionals and short summer courses, she said.
The program will integrate with the Cornell Institute of Host-Microbe Interactions & Disease, launching in early 2017 and run by entomology professor Brian Lazzaro.
CDC awarded four $10 million grants. The others went to the University of Florida, the University of Texas-Galveston and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, each of which will form its own Vector Borne Disease Regional Center for Excellence. The funding is part of $184 million CDC awarded to states, territories, local jurisdictions and universities to support efforts to fight Zika virus infection and related health outcomes, including microencephaly and other serious birth defects.