Highly contagious diseases that affect animals and humans could overwhelm the U.S. public health system, disrupt the food supply chain and damage the national economy.

That was the focus of a two-day conference that attracted researchers and stakeholders from across the United States. More than 70 attended the 2009 Annual Meeting of the NationalCenter for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense (FAZDCenter) at the center's headquarters in TexasA&MUniversity's ResearchPark on June 30-July 1.

Creating the tools required to provide that defense requires collaborations between major research institutions and between leading scientists and scholars across a spectrum of research disciplines, said the FAZDCenter's director, Dr. Neville P. Clarke.

"It requires epidemiologists, immunologists and pathologists to work closely with economists, computer scientists and imaging scientists," Clarke said. "It also requires collaborations with educators, trainers and extension specialists."

The FAZDCenter leverages the resources of 18 universities, five national laboratories and three Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Centers of Excellence spread across 16 states and Puerto Rico. Its stakeholders include the food and agriculture industries, DHS, USDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, policy and decision makers at all levels of government, and state departments of agriculture.

The annual meeting provides a forum for the Center's investigators to exchange ideas, present their research, receive feedback from stakeholders, and to identify opportunities for new projects and products that add to the national bio-defense.
"It's an important forum for the center's investigators to enhance their current collaborations and to establish new ones," Clarke said.

Participants heard presentations concerning FAZDCenter products and projects, including:

  • The Bio-Surveillance Common Operating Picture (BCOP), an electronic dashboard designed to collect and display a wide range of data and documents to support the National Biosurveillance Integration System.
  • The Universal Biosignature Detection Array, which allows the rapid detection of bio-warfare agents and hosts, thus speeding an effective response to an outbreak.
  • A test strip that will allow early responders in the field to detect Foot-and-Mouth Disease or Rift Valley Fever in minutes rather than hours, leading to faster responses to disease outbreaks.
  • An economic analysis of the Texas High Plains, which indicates that even a controlled outbreak could cost the nation hundreds of millions of dollars domestically - and perhaps more internationally.

Many participants also got their first look at the Dynamic Preparedness System, the adaptable electronic dashboard that provides the platform for the BCOP, which was on display during the annual meeting.

Guest speakers for the 2009 annual meeting included Tom McGuinn, the Department of Homeland Security's chief veterinarian; Bennie Osburn, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis; Tyler McAlpin of the USDA/APHIS Veterinary Services; Robert Nordgren of Merial Limited; Tammy Beckham, director of the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory; Ross Wilson, chief operating officer of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association; and Frank Busta, director emeritus, the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, University of Minnesota.

Participants also heard presentations by and viewed posters from 12 graduate students who are being educated at the FAZDCenter's university partners.12 graduate students who are being educated at the FAZDCenter's university partners.