Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Experts talk scientific collections' role in disease research

Some of the world’s leading minds in emerging infectious diseases met Thursday and Friday at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to discuss scientific collections’ role in the disease outbreak cycle and research.

SciColl, a global consortium devoted to promoting the use and impact of object-based scientific collections across disciplines, hosted the two-day event. The workshop allowed collections specialists, doctors, public health officials, wildlife experts and others to engage and discuss what collections could contribute to disease emergence and detection, mitigation and prediction.

“It was remarkable over a two-day period how so many pieces of the puzzle that make up disease outbreaks can be fitted together,” said David Schindel, chair of SciColl.

As news continued to break Thursday regarding the ongoing Ebola situation worldwide, participants discussed the resources available in the nation’s backyard to better prepare for such situations in the future.

“We explored case studies that revealed how disciplines can work together efficiently to detect and stop disease outbreaks quickly,” Schindel said. “Unfortunately, we also found many instances where the necessary resources hadn’t been established and the critical connections weren’t being made.”

But the focus wasn’t just human-to-human diseases. Wildlife and zoonotic diseases were also a topic of conversation.

“At a time when the public is very focused on infectious diseases and what seems to be a growth in those diseases, we’re also in the midst of a revolution in the ability of scientists to detect and respond to disease outbreaks both among humans and among animals,” said David Bruce Conn, Henry Gund Professor of Biology at Berry College.

Conn works with the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard’s parasite collection, a collection more than 100 years in the making.

“After spending two days in intensive discussion with colleagues across various disciplines, I’m going back to my laboratory with new ideas for research but also with new ideas to develop global and local biomonitoring for parasites and other diseases,” he said.

Participants from the workshop are currently drafting a report about their findings, which will be publicly available later this year.

“Meetings like this create a global interdisciplinary network that can have real impact for real people,” Schindel said.

“The interesting thing about this week has been that we’ve been able to meet together as scientists working in government agencies, in academia, in zoos, in research laboratories,” Conn said. “And we’re all in the business of collecting and analyzing samples of pathogens that may affect both animals and humans so that we can better understand the disease process.”

For more information about SciColl, visit


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