Needs for research in veterinary science identified

Committee recommends improved communication, changes in student recruitment
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By Allison Clark

On July 18, the National Academies' Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources released "Critical Needs for Research in Veterinary Science." The report was written by a committee of experts who were charged with identifying the national needs for research in three fields of veterinary science: public health and food safety, animal health, and comparative medicine.

From Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine, James E. Womack, PhD, chaired the committee. "When (the committee) first saw this, we thought it was somewhat of a restrictive charge, but the more we got into these three areas, the more difficult we found (it was) to identify any area of veterinary research that could not be put into one of these three categories," Dr. Womack said. "This was not a restrictive charge at all."

In May 2004, the committee held its first meeting and allowed the report's sponsors to weigh in with their concerns. The sponsors are the American Animal Hospital Association Foundation, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, AVMA, national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Association of Federal Veterinarians, and the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Research Resources and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

On the basis of a review of published literature and other data, the committee identified past research activities and projected future needs for research in the three fields of veterinary science. The committee also identified the scientific expertise and institutional capacity required to conduct the research needed. Finally, the committee compared the current national capacity for research in the three fields of veterinary science with that needed for the future and, where appropriate, made recommendations as to how the need can be met.

The committee was not charged to make specific budgetary or organizational recommendations. "It was sometimes very difficult not to get into this area. We wrestled with this one," Dr. Womack said. "Certainly when you identify an area where research is deficient or inadequate, it's almost self-evident that one of the reasons is a budgetary deficit."  

Eight recommendations presented
After its first meeting, the committee held four more to gather information, draft the report, and then make final deliberations. The committee organized the report into five chapters: the role of veterinary science research in human society, progress and opportunities in veterinary research, the setting and implementation of an agenda for veterinary research, resources for veterinary research, and an assessment of current and projected resource needs for research in veterinary science. 

Overall, the committee submitted eight recommendations—in no particular rank—in the report. In summary, the committee recommended the following:

  • The veterinary research community should facilitate and encourage collaborative research across disciplines, institutions, and agencies by reducing administrative barriers and by nurturing and rewarding successful team-oriented investigators.
  • Additional veterinary researchers must be trained to alleviate the demands and to meet societal needs for veterinary research.
  • Changes in recruitment and programming for graduate and veterinary students will be required to meet the nation's needs for research expertise in veterinary science.
  • The AAVMC and its members should identify ways that the colleges of veterinary medicine's facility needs can be met financially and logistically. They should consider mounting an extensive outreach effort to educate policy-makers in federal and state governments about the necessity of additional facilities to train adequate veterinary researchers.
  • The recommendations of the 1999 Strategic Planning Task Force on the Department of Agriculture's Research Facilities and the provisions of the Homeland Security Presidential Directive-9 should be implemented immediately. (The purpose of HSPD-9 was to establish a national policy to defend the agriculture and food system against terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies.)
  • The AAHA, AAVMC, and AVMA should address the need for more effective communication among the federal, university, and private-sector entities involved in veterinary research. The need for databases, animal health monitoring and surveillance systems, specimen collections, and other sharable research tools to support veterinary research should receive special attention.
  • The National Institutes of Health and USDA should address the importance of engineered and spontaneous model colonies of animals and ensure that these valuable resources are not lost.
  • The veterinary research community should actively engage the Department of the Interior, NIH, National Science Foundation, USDA, and other federal agencies and urge them to recognize and address the need for financial support for veterinary research disciplines that lack identifiable sources of federal funding.   
Sponsors respond
During a briefing July 11, sponsors were invited to review the report before its public release on July 18. Dr. Michael Chaddock, director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division in Washington, D.C., was on hand at the briefing. 

Having reviewed the report before the briefing, Dr. Chaddock responded to the committee's recommendation to the AAHA, AAVMC, and AVMA to address the need for more effective communication among the entities involved in veterinary research. He commented that, because of inadequate communication, the public does not always observe the great strides in research made by the veterinary community.

"We can pick up the paper and turn the TV on and every couple weeks hear about prestigious (human) medical journals, but we don't hear anything about research in the veterinary community," Dr. Chaddock said. "And much of that has to do with human medicine or zoonotic diseases, but yet when it's out there in the public, it might foster more interest and more resources, and more people becoming involved."

In response, Dr. Womack added that the database component of the recommendation fits in with the need to improve communication. "If there were databases out there with regard to animal models—where they're located, literature, etc.—and if people in (human) medical schools doing research were aware that these databases were there, the resources would be used." He also said that a stronger liaison with the NIH would increase communication between the veterinary and human medical communities.

In the report, the committee recommended the number of specialists required to conduct the veterinary research. Dr. Larry Heider, AAVMC executive director, said that in other professions, it might be easier to add specialists, but in the veterinary profession, and with the capacity of its colleges, it will be difficult.

As a general response to the report, Dr. Heider said the AAVMC views the recommendations as "quite valuable." He said the report's recommendation to increase the attention given to the value of veterinary research would help the association when it works with government agencies and the leaders of the colleges of veterinary medicine.

Veterinary medicine is not the only profession that veterinary research would benefit. "Throughout this report, we could not help but to come back to the theme of 'one medicine,'" Dr. Womack said. "What we learn about one animal has implications to all because of our relationship with each other."

To obtain a copy of the report, log on to the National Academies Press Web site at Printed copies of the report will be released in late September and can be pre-ordered on the Web site.