Preventing Disease

In order to prevent the outbreak of devastating disease and maintain global human health, it is critical that researchers combat the source of the majority of new human diseases: infections that begin in animals, both wild and domestic.

Those efforts are the focus of a trio of researchers—Guy Palmer, Terry McElwain, and Thomas Besser—who conduct a variety of scientific investigations designed to understand and eventually stop animal-related diseases that have the potential to wreak havoc with global human health.

Dr. Palmer focuses on gaining global control of persistent infectious diseases, such as Babesia (or cattle fever), a tick-borne cattle disease that causes symptoms in cattle analogous to malaria in humans. Development of an effective immunization to prevent Babesia would not only protect herds of cattle, particularly in developing countries, but also preserve the livelihood of citizens who often rely on herds of three-six cattle for their economic well being.

The nation’s food supply is under the watchful eyes of Dr. McElwain, executive director of the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. He oversees a laboratory that is equipped and trained to monitor and respond to possible exotic disease outbreaks affecting livestock or wild animals in the United States.

Dr. Besser, a professor in the Zoonosis Research Unit at WSU, devotes substantial efforts to researching food-borne bacterial diseases affecting humans, including those caused by Salmonella and E. coli, which live in one or more animal species. Understanding how pathogens evade the immune response – and persist will lead to an improved understanding of diseases and to solutions that improve global health.


Featuring: Dr. Guy H. Palmer, D.V.M., Ph.D.

World-renowned researcher Guy Palmer is Regents Professor of Infectious Diseases at Washington State University. He is a member of the National Academies Institute of Medicine and has led collaborative research programs in southern and eastern Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. Currently, he directs a multi-institutional infectious diseases research program in Latin America. He received a D.V.M. from Kansas State University and completed a Ph.D. and post-doctoral fellowship in microbiology and pathology at Washington State University. He is board-certified in anatomic pathology and is a Diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Pathologists.

Featuring: Dr. Terry McElwain, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Terry McElwain’s research interests are in global control of persistent infectious diseases. He is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists, professor of pathology, and executive director of the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, one of nine animal health laboratories in the United States with membership in the Laboratory Response Network for Bioterrorism and a core founding institution in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network. He directs WSU’s Animal Health Research Center and is a member of the Board of Directors of the World Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians. Dr. McElwain received a D.V.M. from Kansas State University and a Ph.D. from Washington State University.

Dr. McElwain worked closely with the Centers for Disease Control in establishing policies and procedures for animal sample submission and laboratory diagnosis during the monkeypox outbreak in 2003. He has also been involved in veterinary diagnostic laboratory preparedness for intentional or accidental introduction of exotic and emerging diseases, including most recently influenza virus.

Dr. McElwain is involved in development, validation, and application of molecular diagnostic techniques for disease diagnosis, and is co-inventor on 12 patents or licensing agreements.

Featuring: Dr. Thomas Besser, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Thomas Besser’s research focuses on agents that cause human food-borne diseases. His research to develop practical measures to reduce the prevalence of these agents in animals, as a means of reducing human disease risks, focuses on the ecology and epidemiology of agents in reservoir animal populations. Specifically, he researches non-typhoid Salmonella and thermophilic Campylobacters, E. coli, and the use of antimicrobial drugs in animal husbandry. Dr. Besser received a Ph.D. in veterinary science from Washington State University and a D.V.M. from University of Minnesota. In 2001, he was a U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Fellow in Food Safety Research.