Professor Nikolaus Osterrieder became Dean of the Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences in 2020. He explains how the Covid-19 crisis has raised awareness of the
key importance of the One Health concept, and his plans for leading the College to global recognition and impact.
Given your distinguished career in Germany and extensive international experience, what is your vision for the College to become one of the leading veterinary schools in the world?
Having spent most of my working life in Europe and the United States, Asia presents an entirely different array of opportunities for both myself and our other international faculty. The diversity of issues that present here make it an extremely exciting place to work. As Hong Kong’s first and only veterinary school, we are in an enviable position to tackle and take the lead in areas such as zoonotic diseases, food safety and production, aquaculture, and animal welfare.
The Covid-19 pandemic has rapidly brought to the fore the importance of One Health to everyone around the globe. Never in our lifetimes have we seen such a consensus as the need to have healthy human and animal populations as well as to preserve our environment and strive to minimise the effects of pandemics and zoonotic threats. It is a shame, in fact, that it took Covid-19 for us to realise the importance of One Health. Unfortunately, the world tends to have a short memory and there is a danger of people going back to their old habits, which is why we need to emphasise that we all need to have a paradigm shift into a post-Covid-19 One Health world that results in true preparedness. Having a veterinary school in Hong Kong to tackle these issues, whether it is by advising the government on Covid-19 in pets, research by faculty into how the virus and its many variants spread and cause disease in populations, or outreach to the community, is an important element in our fight against the next pandemic that is all but certain to wash ashore.
Amazingly, our first cohort of talented veterinary students are only a couple of years away from graduating. It seems like yesterday when I heard about this project between CityU and Cornell University. This exciting prospect will be another milestone in the development of not only the Jockey Club College and CityU, but Hong Kong and the region. For the first time ever, Hong Kong will produce its own trained veterinarians, and these incredible ambassadors will go forth representing us and hopefully making their mark in the veterinary profession for years to come.
I would also like to thank our many partners, supporters, and friends at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine for their continued support of the programme.
What are some of the College’s key research contributions in tackling the on-going Covid-19 pandemic?
Three projects proposed by College faculty have been granted $8.3 million in funding by the Health and Medical Research Fund under the Food and Health Bureau, which highlight the College’s valuable contributions to fight Covid-19.
Also, the research that aims at tackling Covid-19 has attracted over $7.1 million in funding from the Innovation and Technology Fund’s scheme “Public Sector Trial Scheme for the Prevention and Control of Covid-19 in Hong Kong”. Other examples of research breakthrough also include the development of a new method for identifying binding proteins of non-coding RNAs in living cells by the Department of Biomedical Sciences. Next to government-funded projects, many of our faculty are actively involved in research on Covid-19 and SARS-CoV-2 from studies on virus pathogenesis and animal models of disease, vaccine development and disease modelling.
Other endeavours include Covid-19 testing for animals by CityU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL), which began a pilot testing scheme in July 2020 with samples being collected by local veterinarians. The contributions from CityU VDL on offering support to animal disease research and collaboration with medical professionals provide opportunities for diagnosis and research into zoonotic diseases under the “One Health” concept.
You have previously stated that one of your favourite quotes is from 19th-century pathologist and politician Dr Rudolf Virchow, who said: “There are no dividing lines between human and veterinary medicine – nor should there be.” This is also a guiding principle for the College. What do you see as the key strategic areas for its on-going development?
When the current pandemic hopefully behind us soon, the world’s health focus should and will re-focus on one of the major challenges to human, animal, and environmental health, commonly referred to as antimicrobial resistance or AMR. AMR is second only to climate change when we consider worldwide threats of the planet’s well-being. One of the causes of AMR is the less-than-prudent use of antibiotics, and studies indicate that it could lead to 50 million deaths by 2050, according to WHO figures. JCC obtained funding to the tune of $35 million from the Sustainable Agriculture and Aquaculture Funds for the creation of pig, poultry, and aquatic teams whose aim is to improve animal health, welfare, productivity, food safety, and sustainability on Hong Kong farms. By working closely with local farmers, and as the only locally available veterinary service for farm animals in Hong Kong, we are hoping to assist them to use fewer and less veterinary drugs in their animals, which in turn will result in a healthier product for the consumer.
For animal welfare, different aspects, including farming, husbandry, food and transport, which are critical to One Health, are taken into consideration. The overall goal of JCC is to improve quality of life and health of people, animals, and the environment, and to ensure sustainable food production through the promotion of animal welfare. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed recently between CityU and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The establishment of the CityU Dairy teaching farm in Lam Tsuen, Tai Po, by the end of 2021 will be another significant achievement, providing opportunities for our students to learn about the science of milk production and rearing of cattle.
The dairy has been designed to meet the most stringent animal welfare and environmental standards and will showcase how a small modern dairy farm can be run. It will also be the only active dairy farm in Hong Kong producing Hong Kong’s only locally produced milk, making it a truly exciting prospect.