Virginia Tech leaders, scientists, and engineers will gather Oct. 29-30 to focus on challenges in emerging infections and preparedness for the 2017 Summit of the Virginia Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (VASEM).
National and emerging leaders from science and medicine from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as government agencies and several universities, will attend the summit at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.
Virginia Tech faculty spearheading and/or speaking at the event are Patricia Dove, president of VASEM and a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Geosciences in the College of Science; X.J. Meng, chairman of the summit’s organizing committee and a University Distinguished Professor of Molecular Virology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine; and Linsey Marr, a professor in the Charles Edward Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering. Three-time Virginia Tech alumna and scientist Jennifer McQuiston also will speak.
Meng, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and the summit organizing committee, selected the program roster at the request of Dove, who was appointed to her three-year term in summer 2016.
“We hope to connect researchers, health-care professionals, and technology innovators in the field of infectious diseases from Virginia to National Academy members, drug, vaccine and biodefense leaders,” Meng said. “Our goal is to discuss new research and development opportunities and devise novel strategies for preparedness, detection, and control of emerging infections and bioterrorism.”
Registration for the 5th annual summit is closed, with 150 registered for an event originally planned for 125 people. Registration for attendees was gratis thanks to the 2017 summit sponsor MAXIMUS Corp. and the lecture sponsorships from MITRE Corp., as well as multiple university research institutions at Virginia Tech and from others around the commonwealth.
Among the sponsoring institutions is the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech. “Our collaborators in public health expect solutions that are smart and responsive, ready to be launched in the real world where conditions are always changing,” said Chris Barrett, its director. “We continue to develop ‘synthetic populations’ that move, interact, and respond to outbreaks just like a real community, allowing us to be prepared to find answers for any scenario, no matter how complicated.”
Summit guests include Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, and Bill Hazel, Virginia Secretary of Health. The keynote address will be given by Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.
The event opens at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29, with a networking reception highlighting research by faculty from several Virginia universities. Monday events feature talks touching on emerging infections, drug-resistant superbugs, and bioterrorism. Other talks will focus on environmental engineering, measles, filoviruses, pathogen-resistant mosquitoes, HIV/AIDS vaccines, and novel biosensors.
“The younger research professionals that attend VASEM summits are the next generation of leaders in science and engineering,” said Dove, the C.P. Miles Professor of Science and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. “We want to provide these Virginians with access to the platforms and the relationships that allow our emerging talent to receive greater recognition in their fields as designated by election to a National Academy.”
Marr will speak about pathogen transmission via environmental engineering, and Jennifer McQuiston will explore the origin of emerging infections. McQuiston is deputy director of the CDC’s Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology at the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. She is a three-time Hokie alumna, holding a bachelor’s degree in biology from the College of Science, and a master’s degree in molecular microbiology and a doctorate with honors, both from the College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Dr. Meng felt strongly that Virginians and researchers nationwide need to know the amazing progress that is happening in labs here in the commonwealth on infectious diseases and preparedness,” said Andrew Densmore, executive director of VASEM.
“Emerging infectious diseases are occurring at a rate that has not been seen before, and the majority of emerging human infections originated from animals,” Meng said. “Deadly infectious diseases such as Ebola and Zika pose a constant public health threat worldwide, including the Commonwealth of Virginia, as there is really no boundary for infectious diseases. Furthermore, concerns also exist for potential bioterrorism with deliberate release of deadly pathogens into human and animal populations. Virginia and the nation must better prepare for the consequences of emerging infectious diseases.”
The summit’s theme fits in with Virginia Tech’s focus on Global Systems Science as a Destination Area and the transdisciplinary study of the dynamic interplay between natural and social systems.
“Recent epidemics, such as Zika and Ebola, are sobering reminders of just how closely connected we are as a global community,” said Theresa Mayer, Virginia Tech’s vice president for research and innovation. “Our health and security depends on experts working together across scientific disciplines and geographic boundaries. This summit provides an excellent opportunity for our leading researchers in the commonwealth to come together, be inspired, form collaborations, and tackle these dire issues head-on.”
The nonpartisan academy was established in 2013 by Sen. Mark Warner as an independent forum to assist Virginia elected leaders with science and technology issues facing the commonwealth and the nation.
VASEM is composed of 140 members of the national academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine who work or reside in Virginia. It also serves as advisors to help boost jobs for Virginia citizens in economic fields that tie directly to the sciences, including the aerospace industry, big data and cyber security, advanced manufacturing, and transportation and autonomous systems.