April 16, 2013
Riya V. Anandwala

Lemurs, Orangutans and Med Students – Oh, My!

SLU Students to Present Zoo Talk on the Link between Wildlife Conservation and Human Health

ST. LOUIS - Saint Louis University medical students will explore the connection between the health of animals and people during an Earth Day presentation at the Saint Louis Zoo on April 20, from 9 a.m. to noon.

SLU medical students will present research on six animal species at the Saint Louis
Zoo One Health Fair on April 20.
Photo Credit: Saint Louis Zoo.

The students are members of the One Health interest group, which promotes the collaboration between physicians, veterinarians, disease researchers and ecology researches to improve human, animal and ecosystem health. The event, One Health Fair, is co-sponsored by Saint Louis University School of Medicine and the Saint Louis Zoo Institute for Conservation Medicine.

"We live in a changing world, where people and animals come into contact and affect each other in a myriad ways. These interactions can be positive or negative for humans and the animals," said Carolyn Hilliard, second-year medical student and a co-leader of the group. "As the world continues to change, it will be important for physicians to understand these interactions, and work with our professional colleagues studying them from another perspective" she said. Other co-leaders of the group include second-year medical students Lindsey Van Sambeek and Margaret Boyle.

SLU medical students are working closely with veterinary students, technicians, veterinarians, keepers, education specialists, and curators from the Zoo to research an animal species and examine the interaction between the animal, its environment and human health.

At the fair, these teams will give an interactive presentation of the research to Zoo visitors. The students are studying lemurs, bees, bats, orangutans, hellbenders and vultures, and the wildlife conservation challenges that could impact human health. For example, students will discuss colony collapse disorder currently affecting honeybees, and how their loss could have a major impact on human agriculture and health, as well as on biodiversity in general.

"We want to explore questions like: in what ways will loss of biodiversity impact human health? What populations will be most affected by increasing disease incidence? Are there advancements in veterinary medicine that could be applied successfully to human medicine and vice versa?" Hilliard said.

Students will present the following topics at the fair near the habitat of each species:

  • Lemurs: ecosystem health issues in an impoverished nation
  • Orangutans: palm oil production that destroys animal habitat
  • Bees: the death of honeybees, known as colony collapse, and the impact on pollination-and plant production
  • Bats: White Nose Syndrome (a devastating disease killing off bats) and the impact of their decline on pest control and pollination
  • Vultures: their decline in India and a resulting increase in feral dogs and incidence of rabies
  • Ozark hellbenders: their role in indicating problems with water quality in Missouri rivers

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, infectious disease, liver disease, aging and brain disease and heart/lung disease.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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