Mini profile: Abigail Woods
19 November 2010
Imperial’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine has won a five-year Wellcome Trust programme grant, worth over half a million pounds. The Centre’s project will investigate the history of how scientists have approached human and animal disease since the 19th century. Dr Abigail Woods, the project’s Principal Investigator, spoke to Reporter about her work.
How differently do researchers treat animal and human health?
At the moment scientists are talking a lot about ‘one health’, a concept which focuses on bringing human and animal health closer together to help deal with the challenges both fields face. Quite a lot of scientists look to legitimise the concept through reference back to a 19th century ‘golden age’ before the fields became distinct. Taking an historical point of view we want to investigate the realities behind this idea.
Why is the concept of ‘one health’ so prominent at the moment?
There are three drivers: Firstly, 70 per cent of emerging diseases are zoonoses, which means they circulate from animals to humans, so tackling them together makes much more sense. Secondly, climate change is altering insect vectors behind disease, and this will affect both humans and animals. Lastly there is the issue of food security; in order to feed a growing population we need healthy and efficient animals.
Is it important to understand the history of science?
I discovered just how important it is when I was doing my PhD on foot and mouth disease, when the epidemic struck in 2001. My knowledge of the history of the disease was in demand from the media, because referring to what had been done in the past helped in giving context to the government’s response. It made me realise just how important history can be for current developments in the world. We see the audience for our research being not just the community of science historians but also scientists and policy makers today.
— John- Paul Jones, Communications and Development
Listen to the latest edition of the Imperial podcast for an interview with Dr Woods: www3.imperial.ac.uk/media/podcasts