When Ohio State officially launched the Infectious Diseases Institute on Oct. 12, an idea that had been planted 18 months before became a reality.
The institute connects more than 260 faculty across 22 disciplines that span human, animal, plant, and environmental health.
“It is a strategic, efficient use of Ohio State's talent and resources,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce McPheron in his opening remarks at the Faculty Club kickoff event. “Not only is it the tangible result of Ohio State's commitment to interdisciplinarity, it embodies the goals of our new strategic plan.”
Though it had been raised previously in various quarters of the university, the idea to coordinate Ohio State's infectious disease researchers and resources gained traction when Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, came to campus last year to deliver the spring commencement address.
In talking to faculty, staff and administrators after his address, he suggested that Ohio State's wide-ranging expertise could have a bigger impact if the work of numerous groups, centers and programs—for example, the Center for Microbial Interface Biology, the Public Health Preparedness for Infectious Diseases program, and the Infectious Disease Discovery Theme Program, to name a few—were integrated and streamlined. He noted that researchers identified themselves with all sorts of different three- and four-letter acronyms.
The moment was a turning point, Senior Vice President for Research Caroline Whitacre told more than 100 guests at the launch party. “Tony said if there were a way to bring it all together, it would be really powerful,” she said. “And that's what we've done today.”
Whitacre noted that the institute provides coordination for the infectious diseases community, allows Ohio State to project a coordinated message to the public, enhances collaboration among researchers, and harnesses grant-writing resources that can be directed toward infectious-disease funding opportunities.
“And It allows us to approach industry with a more directed message,” she said, “and provides a great opportunity to approach donors in a more coordinated way.”
Michael Oglesbee, professor of veterinary biosciences, directs the institute and leads a seven-member executive team focused on building a cohesive, robust infrastructure that supports existing research strengths and fosters internal and external partnerships.
“In that sense, the institute is actually embracing the philosophy and goals of the Discovery Themes,” he told the crowd. Oglesbee and Cathie Smith jointly directed the Infectious Diseases Discovery Themes program, which gave rise to the institute. Smith is IDI's chief operating officer.
The institute is structured around six thematic programs led by faculty from eight colleges. They bring not only a wealth of diverse expertise, Oglesbee said, but “the ability to look beyond silos to think horizontally.”
The six programs and their directors are:
- Antimicrobial Resistance: Tim Landers, associate professor of nursing; and Tom Wittum, professor and chair of veterinary preventative medicine
- Ecology, Epidemiology and Population Health: Jiyoung Lee, associate professor of environmental health sciences, food science and technology; and Joseph Tien, associate professor of mathematics
- Host Defense and Microbial Biology: Prosper Boyaka, professor of veterinary biosciences; and Samantha King, associate professor of pediatrics and a Nationwide Children's Hospital investigator
- Microbial Communities: Daniel Wozniak, professor of microbial infection and immunity; Kelly Wrighton, assistant professor of microbiology
- Prevention, Detection and Therapies: Mark Mitton-Fry, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy; Shaurya Prakash, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Karl Werbovetz; professor and chair of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy
- Viruses and Emerging Pathogens: Shan-lu Liu, professor of veterinary biosciences; Linda Saif, professor of food animal health and veterinary preventative medicine
Oglesbee said university students, faculty and staff are invited to join the institute to support and grow its work. Details are available at the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) website.