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Leading research for animal health, welfare, and biosecurity

Damien HigginsFaculty of Science, Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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 BVSc, MVetStud, PhD
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Merran GovendirFaculty of Science, Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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 BVSc(Hons 1), PhD, MANZCVS, MEd (Higher Ed), HERDSA
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Mark KrockenbergerFaculty of Science, Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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 BVSc, PhD, FANZCVS
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Michael WardFaculty of Science, Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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 BVSc(Hons 1), MSc, MPVM, PhD, DVSc, FANZCVS
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Jenny-Ann ToribioFaculty of Science, Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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 BVSc(Hons), MEd (Higher Ed), PhD, MANZCVS

At the Sydney School of Veterinary Science, our vision is to advance regional and global issues of importance through innovative, ethical, and transformative research. Our staff have broad interests and expertise, and we foster interdisciplinary work in a broad variety of fields grouped within the 7 themes of infectious diseases and biosecurity; animal welfare; wildlife health and preservation; food security; genetics, genomics, and taxonomy; evidence-based clinical practice; and education.

One critical research area is the preservation of our iconic koalas. The Koala Health Hub is an initiative of the University of Sydney to benefit koala welfare and conservation by connecting researchers across the country with people at the coalface of koala care and management. Following 2 centuries of accelerating habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, the koala is now listed as endangered. The koala’s ability to withstand these threats is greatly impeded by widespread chlamydial infertility. The Koala Health Hub’s leadership of nationally collaborative research programs has established quality-assured diagnostics to underpin strategic monitoring and conservation programs and best-practice koala rehabilitation nationally; field trials of chlamydial vaccines for management of key at-risk populations; novel approaches to evaluating drivers of disease to inform population health management; and novel programs to evaluate biosecurity measures employed in field and rehabilitation settings. In collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Wildlife Health Australia, we recently led a comprehensive national disease risk assessment that captures the koala’s diverse geographic range and conservation and health issues.

Integrating with our wildlife conservation mission and evidence-based clinical practice, we have the only specialized veterinary pharmacology laboratory in Oceania. We develop and validate assays to quantify medicine concentrations in the blood and biological tissues of a variety of species. Consequently, our researchers optimize therapeutic doses for a wide range of wildlife and domestic animals as well as perform in vitro studies (using hepatic metabolism enzyme incubation studies) to predict pharmacological profiles of medicines in the target species to minimize the requirement of clinical trials in live animals. Our research was the first to determine that koalas have poor gut absorption of many oral medications and active hepatic metabolic pathways that rapidly eliminate many medicines, making them ineffective. This research has drastically changed the way koalas receive common medications such as analgesics, anti-inflammatories, and antibiotics, a critical element to the success of our conservation mission.

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A young koala in care. Our research supports the diagnosis and treatment of thousands of rescued koalas each year.

Citation: American Journal of Veterinary Research 83, 9; 10.2460/ajvr.22.07.0116

Equally, the school has expanded involvement in international research and development programs, especially in our region, including Vietnam, Fiji, Timor Leste, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Pakistan, and remote communities in Australia. The research includes surveillance, epidemiology, and biosecurity regarding infectious agents (eg, African swine fever, avian influenza, foot-and-mouth disease, rabies, and tuberculosis) that threaten animal and human health and welfare in our region. Further, we lead major capacity-building initiatives such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade–funded Asia Pacific Consortium of Veterinary Epidemiology and the Pacific Paravet Training project.

We welcome global partners to engage in research to enhance the health and welfare of animals.

Contributor Notes

Corresponding author: Dr. Higgins (damien.higgins@sydney.edu.au)