UI joins national institute to research bacteria resistant to antibiotics

The University of Iowa is partnering with Iowa State University in a new national institute that will address the global public health concern of antimicrobial resistance.

Christine Petersen
Christine Petersen

Iowa State will be home to the new Institute for Antimicrobial Resistance Research and Education, aimed at improving health for people, animals and the environment. The University of Iowa Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases—housed in the College of Public Health—is a part of the initiative. Christine Petersen, associate professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, will serve as a co-director of the new institute and will coordinate involvement of participants from the College of Public Health and Carver College of Medicine.

“This new institute will provide a platform for a coalition of scientists from across our agricultural region to consider antimicrobial resistance and stewardship across all partners in health,” says Petersen. “With this new center we will be able to openly discuss the root causes of antimicrobial resistance and the best ways to protect ourselves, our pets, and our livestock from disease while also ensuring effective antibiotics for our future.”

Each year in the U.S., at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotics, and 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections. Many more die from other conditions complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These drug-resistant “superbugs” also harm the ecosystem and cost multibillions of dollars annually in medical costs and economic losses.

The institute stems from recommendations made by a joint task force of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges in 2015, outlining an array of research and education initiatives to address antimicrobial resistance. The institute will help coordinate and implement those recommendations at universities and veterinary medical colleges across the country.

Other institutions involved in the initiative include the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Mayo Clinic.

Petersen’s team researching leishmaniasis in foxhounds, humans

The research Christine Petersen and her colleagues are conducting on leishmaniasis is bringing much-needed insight to the problem of the disease in foxhounds and, ultimately, humans. “Because of implications of how this could help all infected creatures (not just dogs), we ran the trial all they way to the human clinical trial level,” says Petersen, CPH associate professor of epidemiology.
(Article starts on p. 26)

Slideshow: Petersen travels to India to research visceral leishmaniasis

In July 2017, Christy Petersen, CPH associate professor of epidemiology, traveled to Bihar, India, to conduct research on visceral leishmaniasis. She recently shared photos and details of her trip.

I traveled to India as a part of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) Tropical Medicine Research Center faculty. The center is an NIH Specialized Center (P50) that is entering its 15th year of funding located at the Kala-Azar Medical Research Centre (KAMRC).

I worked in and around a city called Muzaffarpur in the state of Bihar, which had the honor of being the last area of the world to eradicate smallpox. Bihar is in the northeastern corner of India, next to Nepal and Bangladesh, and home to the headwaters of the Ganges River. Bihar is still one of the poorest regions of India. The power is inconsistent throughout most of the day, the water isn’t potable, and raw sewage flows down the sides of the street.  As it was monsoon season while I was there, there was active malaria, Dengue, Zika, Japanese encephalitis, and other things circulating in the mosquitos, so I was sure to wear my bug spray each day.

Bihar is also endemic for visceral leishmaniasis (VL), the fatal protozoal parasite infection that is the research focus of my lab. The Muzaffarpur area had 44 new VL cases during June 2017, the month before I arrived. One of the villages I visited had 38 of 300 villagers recently seropositive for leishmaniasis; all were children under 18.

We drew crowds when we were out in the villages looking for “bimar kutta,” or sick dogs, to establish whether animals are part of the disease ecology (reservoirs). To date, this disease is believed to only circulate between humans and the vector sand flies, but in the rest of the world infection is also found in other mammals, particularly dogs and rodents as reservoirs.

I was working in the field with a team of 10 people total, myself included. This was a field team of four trained dog-catchers and three entomologists, one of whom was from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (the only other American present during my three weeks). Rounding out the 10 people was our driver, the PhD student from BHU whose dissertation will focus on this work, and a molecular parasitlogist who will aid us with the molecular studies stemming from these samples. She was the only other woman at KAMRC while I was there. As you might guess, as the only white woman around for miles, I was quite unusual and was the focus of many stares everywhere I went. That was probably one of the hardest things for me to adjust to as an understated Midwesterner.

Bihar was an amazing, troubling, fascinating place.

UI joins CDC-funded center focused on insect-borne diseases

The University of Iowa is among a group of Midwestern universities taking part in a new regional center focused on improving the understanding of and public health response to diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas.

Christine Petersen

The Upper Midwestern Center of Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases, funded by a $10 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will develop research and training programs to address diseases such as Zika, West Nile, and Lyme disease.

Led by personnel at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the center includes experts from the University of Iowa College of Public Health, University of Illinois, Iowa State University, University of Michigan, and Minnesota Department of Health.

Christine Petersen, DVM, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Iowa, will lead the UI’s involvement.

“Our role is to help train students in Iowa for a Certificate in Public Health Entomology and to increase the knowledge of vector-borne diseases in the Upper Midwest,” says Petersen. Students will be recruited from Iowa universities and the public health workforce.

“About half of the students who come into the epidemiology program at the UI identify infectious diseases as an area of interest. This new training and certificate program will be an outstanding opportunity for them to pursue that interest,” Petersen adds.

In addition to teaching and training students, Petersen and her colleagues will help identify practicum and Master of Public Health capstone experiences for students at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University with an interest in vector-borne diseases.