University of Sydney expert: expect more deadly pandemics

Australia should upgrade its infectious disease control capabilities by adopting a US-style Centers of Disease Control, according to a University of Sydney Medical School expert who warns that the world will see more frequent epidemics.

University of Sydney Medical School
Study medical research at the University of Sydney
“Despite our advancing ability to fight infectious disease epidemics and rapidly identify the microbes that cause them, we should expect new and more frequent epidemics as human populations get bigger and better connected,” says Professor Eddie Holmes, who spoke at the University of Sydney's 21st Century Medicine Series on Wednesday, Sept. 17.

“When humans made the shift from hunter-gatherer to an agricultural society they created the first big opportunity for the rise and spread of infectious diseases in humans,” says Holmes, an evolutionary biologist who has studied viruses and other microbes for more than 20 years.

“As we settled in large villages and began living closely with farming animals we optimised the conditions for viruses and bacteria to move from animals to humans. Epidemics like the plague, Ebola, and the avian flu are examples of deadly diseases that jumped the species boundary from animals to humans.

“Fast forward to the twenty-first century, with its megacities, factory-farmed animals, and millions of people jetting around the world daily and nowhere is safe—not even a relatively isolated place like Australia.”

Originally trained as an anthropologist (his doctoral research focused on the evolutionary history of human populations), Professor Holmes first got hooked on viruses during a postdoctoral post at the University of California, Davis.

Since then he has expanded his research to include important human and animal virus such as HIV, hepatitis B and C, yellow fever, dengue, rabies, bat lyssaviruses and influenza.

“Whether a virus can jump species depends on the interplay between ecology and genetics,” says Holmes, whose recent work reveals the basic ground rules of disease emergence.

As an example of such a rule, Holmes says we’re more vulnerable to viruses from other mammals rather than plants because we have similar cells, a subject explored in frightening detail by author David Quammen, in Spillover.

Professor Holmes says that a globally connected surveillance and response network with rapid access to shared data, clear national response protocols, and the capacity to rapidly coordinate and deploy appropriate infection control resources, provides the best option to protect against pandemic disease.

University of Sydney Doctor of Medicine

Program: Doctor of Medicine (MD)
Location: Sydney, New South Wales (Camperdown/Darlington campus)
Semester intake: February
Duration: 4 years

MD Research
Research Methods is introduced in Stage 1 of the program. Students gain knowledge and understanding of research methods to be able to design, conduct and report on a small scale case series study independently.

Core content and a range of options enable students, depending on a background knowledge and skills, to focus on particular areas of research interest for a research or capstone project.

During Stage 2, students are required to plan a research or capstone project that they will conduct during Stage 3. The objective of the MD project is to give students the experience of developing, managing and reporting on a circumscribed project under supervision. Students will have a wide range of choices for their MD Projects, ranging from an advanced clinical assignment to a small research project. The “MD project” will culminate in a written report or an article suitable for publication.


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