The book remains open on infectious diseases, Killam Lecturer cautions

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
If the menaces associated with infectious diseases cross your mind only when booking an exotic vacation, the following scenario may surprise you:
On a Friday night a group of colleagues working at an animal research farm in Alberta have a get-together.  One of  the workers at the time of the party is feeling a little unwell. Over the weekend this person develops the flu, H1N1. By Monday, a few more of the colleagues who had attended the party are sick. By Thursday, the piglets at the research farm are coughing.
Moral of the story? Don’t kiss a pig for luck, get your flu shot, and there is more work to be done on the development of animal vaccines for the prevention of new and emerging zoonotic diseases.

Dr. Lorne Babiuk, Vice President (Research), University of Alberta,  delivers the 2014 Killam Prize Lecture. [Photo: Owen Egan]

Dr. Lorne Babiuk, Vice President (Research), University of Alberta, delivers the 2013 Killam Prize Lecture. [Photo: Owen Egan]

By Meaghan Thurston, Communications Officer, Research and International Relations

On January 20, Dr. Lorne A. Babiuk, a leader in vaccine, immunology, pathogenesis, virology, and molecular virology research, and the 2013 Killam Prize Winner in Health Sciences, delivered the second edition of the Canada Council Killam Prize Lecture Series to a packed crowd at McGill’s Faculty Club.

He shared the story of the sick piglets–a case of human to swine infection transmission he observed at the Swine Research Technology Facility at the University of Alberta (Dr. Babiuk joined the University of Alberta as Vice-President (Research) in 2007)– as a reminder that infectious diseases and their impacts on humans, animals, and the economy are an ongoing concern for researchers in Canada worldwide.

“I was a farm kid and just starting my career when [in 1965] the surgeon general said ‘it’s time to close the book on infectious diseases…fortunately for [my career] and unfortunately for the world, he was wrong…thirty years later we are seeing a global resurgence infectious diseases.”

The economic price tag and the human cost of  zoonotic infections (infectious diseases passed from humans to animals) is a great concern for Dr. Babiuk.

“Vaccination is one of the most cost effective approaches to management of infectious diseases and has saved more lives than any other therapeutic intervention,” he said.

Impressing on the audience his sense of global responsibility for controlling infectious diseases, particularly in the developing world where the health and economic impacts of transmission are devastating, Dr. Babiuk outlined current research efforts on the use of immunostimulants to improve vaccine formulation, as well as reducing the reliance on intravenous delivery:

“Our goal is to develop a single shot vaccine to protect against multiple diseases…and then the other aspect, which is critical, is to educate the community in the use and value of these vaccines…this is where social sciences and medical sciences have to link together.”

Prior to his lecture, Dr. Babiuk spent the day meeting with McGill students and researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute, a Killam Institution, supported by the Killam Trusts. McGill’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Suzanne Fortier, and Vice Principal (Research and International Relations) Dr. Rose Goldstein, as well as McGill’s Chancellor H. Arnold Stienburg attended the lecture.

Watch the full lecture here

The Canada Council Killam Prizes were inaugurated in 1981 with a donation by Mrs. Dorothy J. Killam in memory of her husband, Izaak Walton Killam. The Prizes were created to honour eminent Canadian scholars and scientists actively engaged in research, whether in industry, government agencies or universities.

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