by Jennie Lane, OHI field veterinarian
On April 9, 2020, faculty experts from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s (SVM) One Health Institute and the California National Primate Research Center led a virtual town hall to present updates on SVM’s COVID-19 response efforts. During the vibrant and insightful meeting, more than 400 SVM faculty, staff, students, and friends of the school participated, a testament to both the level of interest in and the expertise of SVM and OHI leadership on the topic. Watch the recorded meeting HERE.
Dean Michael Lairmore opened the town hall with welcome remarks and speaker introductions. SVM faculty, staff and students have rapidly adapted to the situation, all the while maintaining student instruction, continuing animal care through the veterinary hospital, and adapting research activities to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Jonna Mazet, executive director of the school’s One Health Institute (OHI), outlined the COVID-19 situation in California and globally, noting that while there are ongoing obstacles to flattening the curve, California's actions are providing hopeful results. Right now, full attention must be given to controlling human-to-human spread and supporting the human medical community. While the transmission circumstances for SARS-CoV-2 will become clear in the future, we must remember that bats (the currently presumed animal from which spillover occurred) provide essential ecosystem services for our planet, such as pollination and insect control, and they should be protected, not vilified.
Dr. Tracey Goldstein, director of the OHI Laboratory, presented information on understanding the zoonotic origin of coronaviruses, highlighting how coronavirus diversity is linked to bat diversity (i.e. where you have many kinds of bats, you can find many kinds of coronaviruses). Through the USAID-PREDICT project, which sampled nearly 20,000 animals, we’ve learned that bats are likely the evolutionary source of most coronaviruses. Certain bat families are associated with certain types of coronaviruses, such as the SARS-type coronaviruses.
This is important for understanding when and where the risks are for exposure to these coronaviruses. Furthermore, PREDICT improved testing capacity and built a network of linkages between laboratories, countries and government ministries in 36 countries. As a result, these laboratories are on the front lines of COVID-19 response around the world, and also have the tools, knowledge and ability to detect newly emerging viruses when assays or sequences do not yet exist.
Dr. Brian Bird, associate director of the OHI, presented information on coronavirus host ecology, with a focus of how coronaviruses can move around species. He reviewed how coronaviruses are capable of multi-host transmission and evolution, and shared the valuable resource, NextStrain.org, which visually outlines the differences between strains. He also covered the basic physiology of how SARS-CoV-2 infects cells, replicates, gets out of cells, and how this is important when causing disease in multiple species.
While the SARS-CoV-2 virus has shown it can infect dogs and cats, so far none have severe disease; this is an area of active research and monitoring. Furthermore, COVID-19 could pose a threat to endangered primates around the world and people should limit contact with these and other animals. Thus far, research indicates major food sources such as chickens and pigs seem to be resistant to infection.
Dr. Christine Kreuder-Johnson, director of the EpiCenter for Disease Dynamics at the OHI, highlighted how environmental change, biodiversity, and species richness in areas that are rapidly undergoing landscape change influences opportunities for disease spillover. It is likely that the spillover of zoonotic viruses is more common that we realize and studies at the animal-human interface can advance early detection of zoonotic threats. She presented recently published research that illustrates how human behavior and increasing interactions with animals facilitate zoonotic disease spillover. Improved understanding of these dynamics are essential to inform interventions and research necessary to head off the next pandemic.
Dr. Jeff Roberts of the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) outlined research and activities the center is engaged in on COVID-19 response efforts. The seven National Primate Research Centers are a strategic resource for the biosecurity of the United States. Starting on March 4th, 2020, access to the CNPRC has been restricted, and in a very short amount of time, they have initiated several activities including establishing a research collaboration between the Center for Immunology and Infectious Disease and the UC Davis Medical center, active screening of their colony animals, and establishing a barrier colony to maintain seronegative animals for future research.
The CNPRC anticipates animal trials to begin in early May with an initial focus on informing treatment options for the human medical community such as convalescent serum and other therapeutics. Remarkably, the COVID-19 research community response probably represents the most collaborative research effort in US history.
Dr. Woutrina Smith, co-director of the UCGHI Planetary Health Center of Expertise and Technical Director of the USAID-One Health Workforce-Next Generation (OHW-NG) project, highlighted ongoing capacity strengthening activities and the importance of supporting a One Health approach in our workforce, both locally and globally. The USAID-PREDICT project trained over 6800 people in a One Health approach to think globally but act locally. Initiatives such as the Knights Landing One Health Center in California, and the Rx One Health Field Institute provide valuable opportunities for students to gain hands on experience in the One Health approach.
In the last month, the OHW-NG project has established new virtual communities of practice to share expertise and COVID-19 response best practices around the world. Already these communities have more than 900 members; it is open to anyone interested and there will be bi-weekly sessions going forward.
FAQs and Conclusions
Following the presentations, there was a facilitated question and answer session with a wide-ranging discussion. If you didn’t get your questions answered or have more, we are maintaining a COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) resource page.
The town hall closed with a meaningful message from Dr. Mazet, reminding us we need not wait to turn our frustrations into positive actions. We are in this together, and with support from policy makers and the scientific community, we have all of the tools at our disposal to lessen the impacts of COVID-19 and keep anything like this from happening again.
Relevant resources for ongoing and upcoming events related to COVID-19 include:
The UC Davis Office of Research COVID-19 research platform is holding weekly meetings on COVID-19 research activities and is a great resource for more information on research activities and funding opportunities.
On May 2, UCGHI will be hosting their annual conference virtually - COVID-19: Global Perspectives on a Global Pandemic.
The SVM Research Committee will be holding a virtual Research Expo the afternoon of Tuesday May 5