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National Research Council (US) Committee on the National Needs for Research in Veterinary Science . Critical Needs for Research in Veterinary Science. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2005.

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Critical Needs for Research in Veterinary Science.

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Research in veterinary science is critical to the protection of public health and the advancement of science that benefits both humans and animals as individuals and populations. Veterinary research includes studies on prevention, control, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases and on the basic biology and welfare of animals. It transcends species boundaries to include the study of spontaneous and experimental models of both human and animal disease and research at important human-animal interfaces, such as food safety, wildlife and ecosystem health, zoonotic diseases, and public policy.

The rich history of veterinary research, which includes studies on infectious disease and in other biomedical sciences, is replete with seminal contributions to the improvement of animal and human well-being. The many contributions of veterinary research were the results of society's recognition of its important role and society's subsequent support in the form of human, fiscal, and infrastructural resources. The current level of support for veterinary research, however, has not kept pace with the challenges posed by new and emerging threats and the nation's growing demands for knowledge in biomedicine and animal health. That society's needs are outgrowing our knowledge base is seen in examples of missed opportunities to safeguard and improve human and animal health and welfare (Box S-1).

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Examples of Opportunities for Veterinary Research to Safeguard and Improve Human and Animal Health. In June 1999, an unusual number of dead birds were reported in the borough of Queens, New York City. Some 6-8 weeks later, an unusual number of human cases (more...)

The capacity of veterinary research depends on the availability of human and financial resources, research facilities, and infrastructure. This report identifies some of the most critical research needs and outlines recommendations and strategies for meeting them. Failure to provide the necessary resources could have devastating effects on both human and animal welfare, impede biomedical advances, and harm the economy and society as a whole.

To prepare this report, the Committee on National Needs for Research in Veterinary Science analyzed national research needs in three fields of veterinary science—public health and food safety, animal health and welfare, and comparative medicine—and looked at a number of emerging issues that fit in two or more those fields. The research needs include scientific investigation in domestic, wild, companion, service, and laboratory animals. The committee's analysis was based on a comprehensive review of published literature; information obtained from stakeholders, including the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) and several veterinary specialty colleges; and comments provided by national experts at the committee-hosted Workshop on National Needs for Research in Veterinary Science. Current funding levels and sources also were analyzed. On the basis of workshop input and analyses of available data, the committee identified past and future research trends and gaps and the scientific expertise and infrastructure required to meet the most critical research needs. In accordance with its stated charge, the committee did not make specific budgetary or organizational recommendations. (See Appendixes A and B for complete statement of task and biographical information on committee members.)


Veterinary research offers numerous opportunities for improving animal and human health, and unforeseeable challenges can be met best with a competent and properly equipped veterinary research community. Specific findings and critical research needs are detailed in Chapter 2 and summarized below.

Public Health and Food Safety

Foodborne disease is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States. Animals—both domesticated and wild—are frequent reservoirs of foodborne pathogens that can cause human illness. Human public health is affected not only by foodborne pathogens but also by the security of our food animals. A new awareness of the need for research on food and agricultural biosecurity arose after September 11 and the “anthrax letter” attacks later in 2001 because biosecurity research is closely related to maintaining safe agriculture and the food supply. Veterinary research on public health and food safety can contribute to:

  • Improving detection and surveillance of foodborne pathogens associated with livestock and poultry production.
  • Developing interventions to reduce their dissemination.
  • Understanding the development and mechanisms of antibiotic resistance among foodborne pathogens associated with animals in the food chain.
  • Developing preharvest and postharvest surveillance systems, diagnostic and detection systems, vaccines, immunomodulating drugs, animal and product tracking systems, and ecologically sound means of disposal of animal carcasses.
  • Improving our ability to detect and identify disease and pathogens in animal populations and our understanding of interactions between pathogens and hosts so that effective preventive measures and countermeasures can be developed.

A concerted research effort can reduce the recurrence of food pathogens associated with livestock and poultry and ensure the security of our food supply.

Animal Health and Welfare

The increasing demand for veterinary research in animal health and welfare has several underlying causes:

  • The perspective of the role of animals in human society and in the ecosystem has changed.
  • A secure supply of food animals—such as poultry, cows, and fish—depends on their health.
  • Some food-animal diseases affect human health directly (for example, some strains of high-pathogenicity avian influenza virus).
  • Companion and service animals have an important role in human welfare.
  • Laboratory animals are integral to our understanding of basic biology and physiology and are crucial for biological and medical advances.
  • Wildlife health is important for the maintenance of the ecosystem and for the economy.
  • Some emerging infectious diseases are associated with zoonoses (animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans).

Veterinary research is poised to improve human and animal health further through advances in preventive medicine, enhanced treatment for animal diseases, and a better understanding of transmission of zoonotic and other emerging diseases between wild and domestic animals and humans.

Comparative Medicine

Comparative medicine is the field that compares medical and scientific discoveries and knowledge of more than one animal species, including humans. Research in comparative medicine is invaluable for the overall medical research enterprise and for the improvement of animal health. Animal models used in biomedical research provide a whole-animal perspective that cannot be achieved at the molecular, cellular, or organ-system level. With technological advances, many new fields are emerging in comparative medicine, for example:

  • Comparative genetics, which aims to develop reliable molecular markers of specific genetic traits to identify carrier and affected animals.
  • Genome and phenome research that identifies specific genotypes associated with phenotypes.
  • Stem-cell research and cloning.
  • Genetically engineered animal models.
  • Biomaterial developed to treat human and animal diseases.

Continuous progress in biomedical research will depend on our ability to develop and refine animal models to advance biomedical research, to preserve valuable models, and to improve methods for developing genetically engineered animal species other than the mouse to advance understanding of select diseases.


The committee outlined a research agenda and recommended strategies for doing the research (Chapter 3) on the basis of the critical research needs described above. The especially compelling scientific opportunities to improve the quality of life of and minimize biological threats to animals and humans include the following:

  • Implement the concepts of One Medicine and interdisciplinary and translational research in the broader biomedical research agenda.
    • –Substantially improve the integration of molecular biology, genomics, immunology, whole-animal physiology, pathophysiology, and other disciplines in clinical disease research.
    • –Encourage scientists, through grant-funding mechanisms and other means, to work collaboratively across disciplines, institutions, and agencies.
    • –Encourage research institutions to foster research environments that nurture and reward successful team-oriented investigators and research.
    • –Expand veterinary student involvement in ecosystem health and increase their opportunities to work collaboratively to study and understand complex systems and the intricate relationships between humans (individuals, cultures, and societies), animals (domestic and wild), and the environment.
  • Set priorities for research to expand our knowledge, detection, and control of infectious diseases.
    • –Emphasize classes of disease agents of the highest economic importance, including those most likely to cause massive epizootics or epidemics and new and emerging diseases and candidate bioterrorism agents.
    • –Emphasize the study and eradication of laboratory animal diseases that adversely affect the quality of biomedical data.
    • –Focus research on the molecular bases of virulence and on how pathogenic organisms replicate and survive in the environment, including studies of vector biology, wild-animal hosts and reservoirs, host defense factors, and host-pathogen interaction.
    • –Develop and validate rapid, sensitive, reliable, and where possible quantitative systems for detecting and monitoring disease-causing organisms.
  • Expand the study and use of bioinformatics and develop databases and other resources that are readily accessible to the scientific community to enable
    • –A population-level view of disease and research on the interaction between wildlife, domestic animals, and humans.
    • –Tracking of pathogen prevalence in animals, including companion, food-producing, and laboratory animals.
    • –Tracking of foodborne diseases.
    • –Maximizing the sharing and efficiency of developing, preserving, and housing important rodent and other animal models.
  • Quantify critical, scientifically based measures of animal health and welfare to optimize efficient, effective, sustainable, and socially responsible food-animal production and laboratory animal research.
  • Expand research on the human-animal bond and the overall role of animals in society.

Although the different disciplines of veterinary research are grouped in three categories—public health and food safety, animal health and welfare, and comparative medicine—the disciplines are intertwined, and many of the committee's recommendations apply to two or all three fields. For example, research in comparative medicine contributes to animal health through development of preventive medicine and treatment. Study of wildlife diseases contributes not only to wildlife health and conservation but also to public health because many human diseases are zoonotic. In short, veterinary research has interfaces with human and animal health and is interdisciplinary; therefore, collaborative and interdisciplinary research is crucial in translating scientific advances from one traditional discipline to another. However, such research may be hampered by administrative barriers, cultural barriers, and lack of economic resources. Agencies that support veterinary research have their own missions. When proposed interdisciplinary research is relevant to the mission of several agencies but does not perfectly fit the mission of any one agency, it can be difficult to get funding to support it.

Recommendation 1: 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. The community should encourage the development of a long-term national interagency strategy for veterinary research. The strategy could include a specific focus at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on integrated veterinary research via the Roadmap initiative. NIH should consider having a veterinary liaison like the veterinary-medicine and public-health liaison at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help to ensure integration of veterinary and human medical research. Other federal agencies, state agencies, private foundations, and supporters of veterinary research should recognize and provide long-term support for collaborative, integrated veterinary research.

Addressing critical issues in veterinary science requires adequate human, infrastructure, and financial resources. The infrastructure and financial resources for the conduct of veterinary research in institutions that play a major role were examined and compared with the resources needed to do the research proposed to meet societal needs (Box S-2).

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Institutions and Organizations Considered in the Assessment of Resources for Veterinary Research in This Report. Schools and colleges of veterinary medicine Colleges of agriculture

The National Research Council report National Needs and Priorities for Veterinarians in Biomedical Research projected a deficit of 336 veterinary pathologists in the United States and Canada in 2007, and the American College of Veterinary Pathologists reported needs for 149 veterinary pathologists in 2004. Similar human resource needs have been reported by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), CDC, and the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine. The shortage of veterinary researchers is due partially to declining interests in research among veterinary students, which in turn could be attributed to the following:

  • The long period required to attain a DVM, a PhD, and postdoctoral training.
  • The substantial tuition debt accrued during DVM training.
  • The sparse financial support for graduate students in veterinary science.
  • The brief exposure of veterinary students to basic science and research throughout their academic curriculum and internships.

The extended training could be partially addressed by establishing more combined-degree programs, and financial incentives could be provided to veterinary students interested in research through grants, fellowships, and possibly a loan-forgiveness program. However, stimulating students' interest in veterinary research may require a substantial change in the culture of colleges of veterinary medicine (CVMs). Academic faculties are driven to incorporate clinical learning processes into the early years of veterinary education and may not adequately integrate basic science and research in veterinary curricula. The capacity of academic veterinary curricula to incorporate and demand teaching of evidence-based medicine, including the use of research data and statistical analyses, will have a great impact on animal health and the mindset of those who support it. A consequence of failure to train the next generation of veterinary researchers adequately is that opportunities for veterinary science to address public-health needs and to improve animal and human health will be missed. A strong workforce of veterinary researchers is needed to provide the data required for informed decisions in matters that govern day-to-day activity in animal health and welfare—decisions that underlie the economic stability necessary for adequate national animal health care. Veterinary research is essential to informed decision-making by policy-makers who aim to develop effective legislation and regulations based on sound science.

Recommendation 2: Additional veterinary researchers must be trained to alleviate the demands and to meet societal needs for veterinary research. A debt-repayment initiative similar to the NIH Clinical Research Loan Repayment Program could address concerns about the large debt burden faced by graduates of CVMs. If NIH's Center for Cancer Research training initiative in comparative pathology and biomedical sciences and USDA's Agricultural Research Service PhD training program for veterinarians prove to be successful in recruiting and retaining veterinary researchers, they could be expanded and used as models for other agencies and companies.

Recommendation 3: To meet the nation's needs for research expertise in veterinary science, changes in recruitment and programming for graduate and veterinary students will be required. Changes would involve enhancing research cultures in veterinary colleges and strengthening of summer research programs, combined DVM/PhD degree paths, and the integration of basic science into clinical curricula. The AVMA Council on Education, which is charged to review colleges of veterinary medicine for accreditation and publishes guidelines for the process, should strengthen the guidelines for assessment of research in regard to opportunities for research experiences for veterinary students. Research scientists in training should be made aware of national problems in animal health and welfare, be given the opportunity to incorporate cutting-edge science into experimental design, and develop programs of high quality that compete nationally with other disciplines of science.

Increasing the veterinary research workforce requires an enlarged training capacity of educational institutions. The last major federal program to support construction of facilities for CVMs ended nearly 40 years ago. AAVMC has documented that 1,641,000 ft2 of new and 611,000 ft2 of renovated facilities are needed to train additional veterinary and graduate students to meet the demands of public practice. Space for classrooms, teaching, and research laboratories at all biosafety levels and housing for research animals is needed. Existing funding sources, such as state and university funds and gifts from foundations and private donors, are unlikely to meet the needs of the nation.

Recommendation 4: AAVMC and its members should identify ways in which the CVMs' 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 committee did not find useful documentation on facility needs of federal or state agencies to fulfill their roles in veterinary research effectively, with the noted exception of the USDA Report of the Strategic Planning Task Force on USDA Research Facilities: A 10-year Strategic Plan. Report and Recommendations. The report recommended renovation of outdated facilities and noted that biocontainment facilities were required for research on high-risk pathogens. Although replacement facilities at the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, were designed and the first phase was constructed in response to the report, not all the documented needs have been met. Expanded biocontainment facility space was one of the unmet recommended needs, which was also given high priority in Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 (HSPD-9).

Recommendation 5: The recommendations of the 1999 Strategic Planning Task Force on USDA Research Facilities and the provisions of HSPD-9 should be implemented immediately. Biocontainment laboratories should receive special attention. Adequacies and shortfalls in facilities—both federal and nonfederal—needed to support veterinary research should be documented and quantified. Other research resources for veterinary research include libraries, databases, animal health monitoring and surveillance systems, electronic communication systems for sharing data and clinical information, specialized populations of animals, and collections of research materials, such as tissue samples. Effective communication among the various entities involved in veterinary research is needed to maximize the value of studies and to leverage the resources of the relatively small veterinary research community. In particular, databases with clinical records that can be exchanged among teaching hospitals, private practices, and diagnostic laboratories would provide data that could serve as valuable cost-efficient tools for retrospective and prospective research. Likewise, tissue samples and other specimens (for example, serum, DNA, and microorganisms) from both healthy and diseased animals offer exciting opportunities to study animal diseases and epidemiology if they are archived properly for research with client or owner confidentiality protected and made available to the research community. Of equal importance, surveillance systems that effectively and efficiently integrate animal health, food-product safety, and human health monitoring findings into user-friendly and easily accessed networks are needed.

Recommendation 6: The American Animal Hospital Association, 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. Organization of a working task force or national workshop to devise an operating plan for developing and managing these clinical and research databases and collections and to identify methods for their support would be an important first step toward the formation of national databases and archives (such as specimen banks and clinical databases) for veterinary research.

In addition to databases and tissue samples, many disciplines in veterinary research have benefited substantially from access to well-characterized animal colonies with known diseases. Preserving the genomes of those unique model animals is critical to facilitate research in animal diseases. The genetic similarity between humans and other animals is a compelling argument that studies with such animals would reveal both normal and abnormal pathways and mechanisms. Those animal colonies are imperative for integrative physiology and pathophysiology studies.

Recommendation 7: NIH and USDA should address the importance of engineered and spontaneous model colonies of animals and ensure that these valuable resources are not lost. This can be accomplished for some species by cryopreservation and preservation of their germ plasm in tissue banks until it is needed for funded, targeted research or by transfer of their genetic mutations into smaller laboratory species. For other species, maintenance of the whole animal may be necessary.

A review of the organizations that are most likely to fund veterinary research reveals that some research disciplines do not have an identifiable source of financial support from government agencies. Those disciplines include ecological research on zoonotic emerging diseases, dynamics of select agent, biodefense pathogens in wildlife, companion-animal and equine research, wildlife and conservation research, and zoo animal and exotic-pet research. Those disciplines contribute to animal health and welfare and to important elements of human health research or have direct human social impact, but they do not have dependable, permanent financial resources that would ensure their continuing advancement in research.

Recommendation 8: The veterinary research community should actively engage NIH, USDA, the Department of the Interior, the National Science Foundation, and other federal agencies and urge them to recognize and address the need for financial support for the disciplines of veterinary research that lack identifiable sources of federal funding despite their contributions to public health, comparative medicine, and animal health and welfare.


In this age of reductionist research and the ascension of disciplinary endeavors, veterinary research stands apart because of its breadth and interdisciplinary orientation. The world today is full of unanticipated risks in the form of highly pathogenic avian influenza, foreign animal diseases, and transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, to name but a few examples. At the same time, unparalleled opportunities in biomedicine have been afforded by advances in molecular biology, genomics, and other disciplinary sciences. Veterinary research serves as the interface of basic science and animal and human health that is critical to the advancement of our understanding of and response to impending risks and to the exploitation of disciplinary advances in the pursuit of One Medicine. The urgent need to provide adequate resources for investigators, training programs, and facilities involved in veterinary research must be met to seize the opportunities to improve the well-being of humans and animals and to minimize risks to their health.

Copyright © 2005, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK22896


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