University of Minnesota swine researcher John Deen, DVM, will direct work at the University of Minnesota as part of a multidisciplinary effort to implement a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USAID) cooperative agreement to help developing countries better respond to emerging animal diseases that pose a threat to human health.

The $185-million project, called RESPOND, is one of five that will work together to counter the first stages of emerging zoonotic pandemics – diseases that can spread between animals and humans.

Faculty from the College of Veterinary Medicine, the School of Public Health, the School of Nursing, the Medical School, the College of Education and Human Development and College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences will be visiting hot spots around the world to try to prevent the next pandemic. Their objectives will be to improve the ability of countries to recognize and respond to new epidemics in areas where ecological relationships between humans, animals and the environment are unstable.

“The University of Minnesota was sought out because of our range of expertise in zoonotic diseases that crosses disciplines and our focus on the connection between animal and human health,” says Frank Cerra, M.D., senior vice president for health sciences at the University of Minnesota. “We are one of only a handful of places in the country that has this range of disciplines.”

DAI, a Washington, DC-based company, will lead the RESPOND team, in partnership with the University of Minnesota and Tufts University in Medford, MA.

Members of the RESPOND team will be dealing with diseases that don’t yet exist but are similar to disease challenges including SARS, Ebola and avian influenza.

“USAID recognizes the critical need to address emerging illnesses from a global perspective, and to better understand the intersection between human and animal health,” says Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum, founder of the Congressional Global Health Caucus. “With this project, USAID recognizes the unique leadership role the University of Minnesota plays in bringing together the multiple disciplines and expertise required to address this global challenge.”

During the five-year project, the RESPOND team will work to bolster training and response capacity for zoonotic disease outbreak identification, investigation, analysis and control within countries and regions, as well as try to improve coordination between public and private interests involved in an outbreak.

USAID’s other four projects under the Emerging Pandemic Threats Program are PREPARE, PREDICT, IDENTIFY and PREVENT. To learn more, visit http://www.usaid.gov.