[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 23-Mar-2009
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Contact: Kristin Elise Phillips
kphillips@amnh.org
212-496-3419
American Museum of Natural History

Exploring the dynamic relationship between health and environment

Center for Biodiversity and Conservation symposium at AMNH

After clearing a swath of Amazonian rainforest, local residents experience an increase in the number of mosquito bites and a spike in malaria. Veterinarians keep their cattle healthy with doses of anti-parasitics—medication that can harm populations of local invertebrates like dung beetles. Conservation of local biodiversity can contribute to increased food security and provide sources of medicine that can be incorporated into mainstream health care systems. And new advances in genomics are helping scientists map the evolution of a pathogen and understand its ecology.

These and other stories will be part of Exploring the Dynamic Relationship between Health and the Environment, the 14th spring symposium. In recognition of very generous leadership support from the Paul and Irma Milstein Family, this year's symposium is named the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Milstein Science Symposium. On April 2 and 3, biologists, environmental scientists, policy makers, and public health specialists will gather for a two-day exploration of the deep reach of human endeavors into the health of environments and people.

"This is about human health and the health of the planet," says Eleanor Sterling, Director of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (CBC) at the American Museum of Natural History. The CBC organized the symposium in conjunction with the Museum's Sackler Laboratory for Comparative Genomics. "Changes to our landscapes and ecosystems are inextricably linked to the health of species and that of the ecosystems themselves."

"Disease emergence and spread are usually due to a complex interaction of social, ecological, and environmental factors," explains CBC post-doctoral fellow Andrés Gómez. "Globally, environmental change—deforestation, dam building, urbanization, and irrigation projects—has had an influence on the epidemiology of many infectious and non-infectious diseases. But with new partnerships between city planners, physicians, ecologists, and others, we can design healthier surroundings and develop protocols to ameliorate current problems."

A free public program on these topics, the Mack Lipkin Man and Nature Series, will be held on the evening of April 2 in the LeFrak Theater. This year's event, It Takes a Planet: Connecting the Health of People and Nature, will be a conversation between Peter Daszak of the Wildlife Trust and the Consortium for Conservation Medicine, Peggy Shepard of West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc., Walter Mugdan of the Emergency and Remedial Response Division, E.P.A., and Julie Burstein of Public Radio International's "Studio 360." The primary topic will be the best ways to respond to environmental and health challenges—from actions on a global and national scale, to those that each of us can make in our daily lives.

The symposium will take place over two days and is organized into six primary sessions. Talks and discussions are grouped into essential background information, the simultaneous stressors on health and the environment, the practical assessment of costs and benefits when addressing health, the evolution of pathogens, addressing the gaps in current knowledge, and exploring multi-disciplinary solutions. Poster sessions and panel discussions will round out the academic program.

The first session starts by putting health in an environmental context. Carlos Corvalán of the World Health Organization will highlight the global environmental burden of disease and its consequences; Howard Frumkin of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will look at the multiple impacts of decision making in many areas—food, energy, transportation—on both health and the environment; Majid Ezzati of the Harvard School of Public Health will outline global evidence-based environmental health risk policies; and Jane Carlton of New York University School of Medicine and Langone Medical Center will highlight the importance of genomics as a tool for understanding the environmental context of health.

The second session will explore how multiple stressors interact and affect public health and the environment. Donna Green of the Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, will discuss the impacts of climate change on the physical and mental health of indigenous Australians; Camille Parmesan of the University of Texas at Austin will address the impact of climate change on wildlife and the consequential links to human health; and Pim Martens of the International Centre for Integrated Assessment and Sustainable Development at Maastricht University in the Netherlands will look at the health effects of global trade and travel.

Discussion will then shift to how choices and decisions can be made when both human and environmental health are at stake. Andrew P. Dobson, Princeton University, will talk about the connections among biodiversity, disease transmission, and human health. This keynote will lead into talks by Michael J. Balick (New York Botanical Gardens), Patrick L. Kinney (Columbia University), Pablo Bernardo Eyzaguirre (Bioversity International), and Gary W. Yohe (Wesleyan University). Lora Fleming (Miller School of Medicine and Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Miami), Pim Martens, Kent H. Redford (Wildlife Conservation Society), and William Sullivan (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) will then contribute to a panel to discuss situations in which policy making can result in mutual benefits for health and the environment.

On Friday morning, the value of genomic research in investigating evolutionary patterns of pathogens takes center stage in a discussion that includes experts in epidemiology, pathogen surveillance and monitoring, and phylogenetics. Confirmed speakers and panelists include Martin Blaser, New York University Langone Medical Center; Rob DeSalle, Division of Invertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History; Tony Goldberg, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Peter Hudson, Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, Penn State University; Karen Nelson, The J. Craig Venter Institute; and Oliver Pybus, Department of Zoology, Oxford University.

The final afternoon will open with a moderated discussion about data gaps, research needs, and limits of current approaches. This session will include a panel discussion with Marc Levy (Columbia University), Carlos Corvalán, Camille Parmesan, and Pablo Eyzaguirre. A talk by Lora Fleming about the links between human health and the oceans will follow the discussion. The symposium's final panel, moderated by Thomas E. Lovejoy, The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, Washington, DC, will address the need for partnerships among widely disparate groups of researchers from the medical, biological, technology, and policy worlds. Panelists will include Amy Luers (Environment & Vulnerability Mapping, Predict and Prevent, Google.org), Jonathan Patz (Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Donna Green. William Sullivan will introduce the panel with a discussion of future training opportunities across the many fields relevant to the environment and health.

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