Sealy Center for Vector Borne and Zoonotic Diseases

Rationale/Planned Impact

In recent decades the Americas have experienced spillover of endemic arboviruses from wildlife reservoirs into humans [e.g. Oropouche (OROV)], exchange and recombination of emerging arboviruses within the region [e.g. Mayaro (MAYV)], resurgence of arboviruses previously controlled by vaccination or vector control [i.e. yellow fever (YFV) and dengue (DENV), respectively], introduction and spread of novel arboviruses [i.e. West Nile (WNV), chikungunya (CHIKV) and Zika (ZIKV)], and exportation of viruses to other regions (e.g. Madariaga). Furthermore, there is great concern that the newly introduced ZIKV may spill back into an enzootic transmission cycle in the Americas, as YFV did centuries ago. The Americas encompass enormous vertebrate and invertebrate biodiversity, and these species harbor a broad range of arboviruses whose risk of spillover and spread in humans is presently unknown. Increases in the rates of global travel, invasion of novel vector species, urban expansion, deforestation, and global climate change all elevate the risk of further arbovirus emergence. Therefore, there is an urgent need of an integrated collaborative, multisectoral, and transdisciplinary approach, widely referred to as "One Health", working at the local, regional, national, and global levels, with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, vectors (mosquitoes, ticks, mites, fleas) and their shared environment.

Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop a new center for Vector-borne and Zoonotic Diseases, to harness, leverage and expand the complimentary functions of the Institute for Human infections and Immunity (IHII), Center for Tropical Diseases (CTD) and the Western Gulf Center of Excellence for Vector Borne Diseases (WGCVBD), to investigate vector-borne diseases internationally through basic, applied, clinical and field research, education, and service. Thus the Sealy Center for Vector-borne and Zoonotic Diseases (SCVeZooDis) will be anchored by the newly NIH-funded Centers for Research on Emerging Infectious Diseases (CREID), titled "The Coordinating Research on Emerging Arboviral Threats Encompassing the Neotropics (CREATE-NEO)".

The strategic research philosophy for the Center’s development is to enable the best available intellectual and physical resources to be integrated and focused on understanding, mitigating and developing countermeasures against emerging and tropical infectious agents of major global importance. The Center will enhance UTMB’s international footprint and reputation and solidify its global leadership in Vector-borne and Zoonotic diseases. Targeted research areas will include: biology of disease-transmitting vectors (mosquitos, ticks, or mites); vector-pathogen-host interactions with emphasis on field ecology, pathogenesis, skin immunology, pathogen evolution, vector microbiome, and development of novel diagnostics.