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Penn Vet Establishes Institute for Infectious and Zoonotic Diseases

By: Martin J. Hackett Date: Oct 26, 2021
The new Institute for Infectious and Zoonotic Diseases will be led by director Christopher Hunter (center) and associate directors (from left) Lisa Murphy, Dan Beiting, De’Broski Herbert, and Julie Ellis. (Image: Lisa Godfrey)
The new Institute for Infectious and Zoonotic Diseases will be led by director Christopher Hunter (center) and associate directors
(from left) Lisa Murphy, Dan Beiting, De’Broski Herbert, and Julie Ellis. (Image: Lisa Godfrey)

[October 25, 2021; PHILADELPHIA] Signaling the world’s vulnerability to disease, the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn Vet) is launching the Institute for Infectious and Zoonotic Diseases (IIZD) to confront emerging and re-emerging zoonotic and vector-borne diseases, with a goal of fostering innovations in disease surveillance, treatment, and vaccine development.

With 75% of all newly emerging infectious diseases being zoonotic, there is an alarming and urgent need for early detection and prevention of these threats. The new Institute will rapidly scale up research on infectious agents and summon Penn Vet’s extensive bench to tackle new or re-emerging disease. The Institute will have a particular focus on diseases within the northeastern United States. With four major ports of entry, and a population of more than 64 million people, the region is exceedingly vulnerable to spillover of disease between animals and humans; and across rural, agricultural, suburban, and urban landscapes.

The Institute mobilizes 30 Penn Vet faculty, 110 research investigators, and Penn affiliate faculty on broadening the understanding of viral, bacterial, and parasitic pathogens; vector biology; antimicrobial resistance; immune response; the role of wildlife and the environment; as well as antivirals and vaccines. The Institute’s new Martin and Pamela Winter Infectious Disease Fellowship will provide support to graduate students focusing on infectious diseases of animals and humans; and the Institute’s pilot grant program will fund research that supports infection diagnosis, surveillance, or treatments.

The Institute is led by Christopher Hunter, PhD, Mindy Halikman Heyer Distinguished Professor of Pathobiology who has advanced the understanding of cytokine networks in regulating immune responses to inflammation and infection.

“The public’s awareness of infectious diseases has never been higher; the COVID pandemic has made it clear that there is an imperative to expand our focus to local and global infectious diseases,” said Hunter. “This Institute represents a steadfast commitment to protect populations against deadly animal and human health threats such as rabies, West Nile virus, Lyme disease, and COVID-19.”

“We have one of the largest zoonotic disease programs in the world. Bringing that expertise to bear on regional disease outbreaks gives us a significant geographic advantage in mitigating health risks that are literally in our own backyard,” said Andrew Hoffman, DVM, DVSc, DACVIM, the Gilbert S. Kahn Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “The Institute will allow us to integrate communications across our veterinary health networks, respond to disease impacts in real time, and truly transform public health for the communities and economies that we serve.”

The Institute’s core leadership team, led by Hunter as inaugural director, includes De’Broski Herbert, PhD; Lisa Murphy, VMD; Dan Beiting, PhD; and Julie Ellis, PhD. The team will provide an ongoing source of integrative leadership and coordination for the Institute’s research and outreach agendas, educational priorities, and disease response.

To learn more about the new Institute for Infectious and Zoonotic Diseases, watch the Institute’s 75-second highlight video, read Penn Today’s feature story on the Institute, or visit our website at

About Penn Vet

Ranked among the top ten veterinary schools worldwide, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) is a global leader in veterinary education, research, and clinical care. Founded in 1884, Penn Vet is the first veterinary school developed in association with a medical school. The school is a proud member of the One Health initiative, linking human, animal, and environmental health.

Penn Vet serves a diverse population of animals at its two campuses, which include extensive diagnostic and research laboratories. Ryan Hospital in Philadelphia provides care for dogs, cats, and other domestic/companion animals, handling more than 34,600 patient visits a year. New Bolton Center, Penn Vet’s large-animal hospital on nearly 700 acres in rural Kennett Square, PA, cares for horses and livestock/farm animals. The hospital handles more than 6,200 patient visits a year, while our Field Services have gone out on more than 5,500 farm service calls, treating some 18,700 patients at local farms. In addition, New Bolton Center’s campus includes a swine center, working dairy, and poultry unit that provide valuable research for the agriculture industry.