Director's Message

For the Control of Zoonoses

COVID-19, first reported at the end of 2019, is currently tremendously afflicting people around the world. By the way now, emerging and reemerging infectious diseases, such as SARS, Nipah, Hanta, Hendra, influenza, Ebola virus infections, pneumonic plague, and leptospirosis, are appearing worldwide, and become of major concern to public health. All of these diseases are zoonoses whose causative agents infect both humans and animals. The agents are originally harmless in their natural host wild animals and occasionally transmit to other animal species including humans, causing infectious diseases. Changes in the global environment and human behavior contribute to the emergence of new disease by bringing people into closer and more frequent contact with pathogens. In addition, increased numbers of international travelers and animal trade have also contributed to a rise in opportunities for pathogens to jump from natural host animals to humans. We, therefore, must accept the fact that these zoonotic infections are not eradicable. Zoonoses can be controlled only by taking preemptive measures to predict and prevent their outbreaks. COVID-19 reminded us once again the importance of international cooperation for the control of zoonoses that have no borders. 

For the establishment of preemptive measures against zoonoses, a prerequisite is to identify natural host animals carrying potential pathogens and to elucidate the routes by which the pathogens transmit from those animals to other animals, including humans. However, there was no research organization or network specializing in the control of zoonoses. Such an organization should undertake comprehensive studies of diagnostic methods, host range, ecology, and pathogenicity of the infectious microorganisms, and hence establish strategies for prediction, prevention and control of outbreaks of the zoonoses. In addition, we are facing a lack of human resources for the control of zoonoses. One of the reasons is that research and education in medicine are intended to maintaining and improving human and public health, while those in veterinary medicine are aimed at prevention of infectious diseases and clinical treatment of livestock and pet animals. Administrative barriers (i.e., medical and veterinary activities being under the direction of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, respectively) have also been a hindrance. Thus, there had been no research, educational, and administrative basis for the control of zoonoses, because it falls between the two sciences, human and veterinary medicine.

In order to boost dramatically the level of research and education in zoonosis science, Hokkaido University established the “Research Center for Zoonosis Control” on 1st April, 2005 at a time limit of 5 years. This research center has been accomplished unique and unprecedented scientific and educational activities by bringing together experts in bacteriology, virology, parasitology, immunology, pathology, and computer science. In addition, the research center addresses the diagnosis of field materials collected in the world. To establish effective strategies for prediction, prevention and control of zoonoses, the research center has conducted global surveillance to identify natural host animals and transmission routes of the pathogens, and to reveal determinants for the pathogenicity and the host range of the pathogens. The outcomes of the research have been pooled as a database for preservation and utilization of biological resources, and the materials are supplied for diagnosis and vaccine production. At the same time, our educational program provides lectures and training courses for researchers, technicians and graduate students, and have a mission to bring up “Zoonosis Control Experts” who are responsible for the control of zoonoses worldwide.

On 1st April 2010, the Research Center for Zoonosis Control was certified as a Joint Usage/Research Center by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and the time limit of five years was lifted because the scientific and educational activity of the Center was highly evaluated.

On 25th November 2011, the Research Center for Zoonosis Control was designated as WHO Collaborating Centre for Zoonoses Control by the World Health Organization.

The Research Center for Zoonosis Control has been operated for 16 years mainly with external funding. Eventually the achievements have been highly evaluated by relevant academic societies, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the Ministry of the Environment, the pharmaceutical, vaccine and diagnostic industries, relevant research institutes in other countries, and international organizations such as WHO, OIE and FAO. Based on these achievements, Hokkaido University reorganized the Research Center and named as the International Institute for Zoonosis Control on April 1, 2021.

On the day, we took a new step forward as the International Institute for Zoonosis Control, consisting of the Zoonosis Research Unit based on the Research Center for Zoonosis Control; the International Collaboration Unit based on the Global Station for Zoonosis Control under the Hokkaido University Global Institution for Collaborative Research and Education; and the Veterinary Research Unit composed of faculty members from five laboratories in the Graduate School of Veterinary Medicine. With this new structure, all the staff of the institute will work together toward the control of zoonoses.

(April 1, 2021)
Yasuhiko Suzuki, Director

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