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Center Focuses on Disease As Population Phenomenon

Les Real, Asa G. Candler Professor of Biology, directs the Center for Disease Ecology (CDE) at Emory, a multidisciplinary effort that approaches diseases not just as microbes to be defeated, but as evolutionary organisms as complex as any living being.

"Disease ecology is the application of ecological and evolutionary principles to understanding the emergence and spread of infectious diseases," says Real. "There's been such a faith in the traditional medical paradigm that we often have ignored the ecological and evolutionary context of disease, and it's coming back to haunt us."

Real cites the emergence of new diseases--such as the Hanta and West Nile viruses in the United States, as well as the re-emergence of diseases thought previously to be controlled, such as malaria, cholera and tuberculosis--as proof of the need for a complementary approach to fighting them.

And Emory is at the hub of several organizations poised to contribute: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory's Yerkes Primate Center and Health Sciences Center all stand to contribute and gain from CDE.

Since the center focuses on disease as a population phenomenon, much like human culture itself, the CDE steering committee includes faculty from history, anthropology, biology, public health and medicine, plus researchers from the CDC. Real sees the CDE as a complement to existing efforts, including Emory history professor Randall Packard's Center for Health and Society and the university's doctoral program in population biology, ecology and evolution.

Real looks toward the National Science Foundation's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) in Santa Barbara, Calif., as a model. He plans to put together research working groups, such as the one he chairs for NCEAS on predicting spatial dynamics of infectious diseases.

Visit Real's faculty web page.



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