2017: Dr David Hayman, Massey University, Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, has been awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship for research entitled: 'From individuals to populations: multi-scale approaches to pathogen emergence'.
David is a veterinary epidemiologist working at the interface between human, animal and environmental health. He qualified as a veterinary surgeon in 2002 from Edinburgh University, UK, and subsequently mixed general veterinary practice in the UK with wildlife work, largely in the tropics. He completed an MSc in Conservation Biology from the University of Kent, UK, in 2005, to complement this work. In 2007 he was awarded a Cambridge Infectious Diseases Consortium Fellowship at Cambridge University, UK, and initiated a research project on bat viral infections with zoonotic potential in West Africa. Two further fellowships, one a Welcome Trust Research Training Fellowship (PhD) at Cambridge and the other a David H Smith Conservation Research Fellowship (post-doctoral) at Colorado State University and University of Florida, USA, allowed him to continue his research on infection dynamics. He joined Massey in 2014 and is now Co-Director of the mEpiLab and Director of IDReC, two large multi-disciplinary infectious disease research groups.
Many infectious diseases of people, including Ebola virus, HIV/AIDS, and pandemic influenza, are of animal origin. Animal infectious diseases that can naturally transfer to humans are called ‘zoonoses’. They can have devastating impacts on human health but predicting when, where, and why the disease jumps from the animal host to humans (aka ‘spillover’) has remained elusive.
Rather than focusing on how we treat infected individuals, Dr Hayman is interested in trying to understand when and why the pathogen jumps to humans. To do this, he studies how pathogens persist, adapt and diversify within the animal host and how animal host characteristics, such as seasonal birthing and death rates, affect the persistence of the pathogen in the hosts and ultimately the emergence of the pathogen in new hosts. For example, in Africa bats are thought to be the reservoir hosts for Ebola virus and rodents for Lassa virus, both of which cause serious disease in people. Bats are typically long-lived with stable adult population sizes and strong, synchronous birthing, whereas rodents are short-lived and prone to rapid population size changes. However, Ebola virus outbreaks are more unpredictable than Lassa virus. By using mathematical models that integrate data from different sources to model infection dynamics within these populations Dr Hayman aims to understand why these dynamics differ.
Dr Hayman is applying these and other techniques to highly pathogenic or infectious pathogens in North America, Africa, and here in New Zealand. By employing cutting-edge molecular and epidemiological techniques to study infections common to people, wildlife and livestock, the research programme will help to answer fundamental, real-world questions concerning when and why novel, globally important pathogens emerge and cause disease, and provide advice on how to prevent the spread to humans.