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Research with a wide impact

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VETERINARY research is fundamental to the development of the veterinary profession but its impact is much wider than that. This much is clear from a report published by the Veterinary Schools Council this week, showcasing some of the work being done in veterinary schools and highlighting its relevance to society.1 Giving examples of work undertaken at veterinary schools in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands, the report illustrates how the significance of veterinary research extends beyond improving animal health and wellbeing, although that remains an important goal in itself; it is also relevant to human health, global development and food security.

Called ‘Bridging the gap’, the report uses a selection of case studies to illustrate how veterinary research can help to strengthen human as well as animal medicine, sustain the food chain and influence policy. As Nigel Gibbens, the UK Chief Veterinary Officer, remarks in a foreword, the financial impact of the research discussed in the report is strongly apparent: ‘By protecting livelihoods, creating millions of pounds of savings through disease prevention and control programmes, and generating private investment in innovative ways, it is absolutely clear that veterinary research is a great boost to the economy.’ However, he points out, ‘beyond the financial benefits, the case studies demonstrate the importance of veterinary research to society.’ It is, he says, ‘fundamental that world-class research, such as that undertaken in veterinary schools, is continued and vigorously supported.’

The report summarises research projects that are considered to have had an impact on food production, policy development or One Health, and discusses their significance. For the UK veterinary schools, the projects discussed are examples of work submitted under the Research Excellence Framework, which aimed to evaluate the quality and impact of research being undertaken in the UK (VR, January 17, 2015, vol 176, p 58).

As far as food security is concerned, projects discussed include work leading to a national dairy mastitis control plan undertaken by researchers at Nottingham, and on combatting neosporosis in cattle by researchers at Liverpool. Others include projects on bovine tuberculosis undertaken at Glasgow and Dublin, and a project by a team at Edinburgh on breeding salmon resistant to infectious pancreatic necrosis.

With regard to policy, the report discusses a number of projects that have had a significant impact on policies relating to farm animal welfare in the UK and across Europe. They include work at Cambridge on the welfare of animals in close confined systems such as battery cages, sow stalls and veal crates, and at Bristol on enhancing the welfare of laying hens through the use of enriched cages. In the companion animal field, projects include work at the Royal Veterinary College that has improved the care of cats with chronic kidney disease, as well as research at Bristol leading to PCR assays to detect a range of infectious and inherited diseases in cats. Research at Liverpool leading to a screening test to detect carriers of foal immunodeficiency syndrome is also highlighted.

The section on One Health, meanwhile, illustrates how veterinary research can benefit animal and human health by showcasing studies relating to both zoonotic and non-communicable diseases. Projects discussed include work on livestock-associated MRSA undertaken at Cambridge, and work on alternatives to antibiotics being undertaken at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Osteoarthritis and back pain are encountered in both human and veterinary patients, and the report discusses projects at Utrecht and Dublin aiming to enhance understanding and develop new treatments. It also draws attention to research at Nottingham where animals have provided a useful model for understanding the developmental origins of health and disease in people.

Other projects discussed in this section include work at the Royal Veterinary College which has helped to improve global responses to the threat of highly pathogenic avian influenza, work at Edinburgh which led to a new approach to the control of sleeping sickness in Uganda, and work at Glasgow demonstrating the value of mass vaccination of dogs in eliminating human rabies in Africa.

‘Bridging the gap’ illustrates the breadth and international relevance of research being undertaken in veterinary schools and, as Ewan Cameron, head of Glasgow veterinary school and chair of the Veterinary Schools Council, commented on publication of the report, shows that this research is world class. Professor Cameron also remarked: ‘It also makes clear the level of cooperation that veterinary researchers in the UK have with European colleagues. In this context, it is essential that our links with European organisations remain strong, firstly in order that the quality of research remains outstanding through a culture of academic exchange, and secondly so that the results of this research can have positive impacts on the lives of humans and animals across many nations.’

Advocates of a ‘hard Brexit’ would do well to take note.

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