College: College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, IFAS
Department: Animal Sciences
Research Interest: Avian influenza; zoonotic diseases; disease transmission
Curriculum vitae: PDF
Dr. Ilaria Capua, DVM, PhD, comes to the University of Florida after spending more than three years as a member of Italian Parliament. She was asked to run for election by Mario Monti, a former EU Commissioner who was serving as Italian Prime Minister at the time. She has come to UF to lead the One Health Center of Excellence, a UF center that aims to tackle international health challenges through interdisciplinarity. Dr. Capua ironically describes herself as a PMO — a “politically modified organism.” As a scientist who has been enriched by exposure to the political arena, she now has a broader grasp of the complexity of the science/policy interface.
Before joining Italian Parliament Dr. Capua was the director of the Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences at the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie, Legnaro, in Padova, Italy. The department hosts the National FAO/OIE Reference Laboratory for Avian Influenza (AI) and Newcastle disease (ND) and the OIE Collaborating Centre for Diseases at the Animal/Human Interface, providing diagnostic assistance at both a national and international level and performing cutting edge research on influenza viruses and viral zoonoses. The group collaborates with major research institutes worldwide and has developed international collaborative projects aiming to capitalize on investments for capacity building in developing countries.
Dr. Capua rose to the international stage in 1999 due to her efforts to quell the 1999-2000 avian influenza outbreak, then the largest outbreak of avian flu ever recorded. Dr Capua’s team developed novel diagnostic and intervention strategies, including the “DIVA” (Differentiating Vaccinated from Infected Animals) strategy, the first ever to combat avian flu by vaccination. This strategy eradicated LPAI and enabled the continuation of trade in poultry commodities. “DIVA” is now included in EU legislation as one of the tools to combat avian influenza infections in poultry.
In 2006 she ignited an international debate on sharing genetic information from panzootic H5N1 virus strains across disciplines, garnering international attention from media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Her advocacy of increased openness was endorsed by OIE, FAO and later by the WHO, and resulted in resolutions supporting greater transparency on genetic data of emerging pathogens.. The sharing of virus sequences to allow for better understanding of animal and human infections has now become a core part of pandemic preparedness plans.
In 2007 she was among the winners of the Scientific American 50 award and in 2008 she was included among Seed’s Revolutionary Minds series for her leadership in science policy for promoting the sharing of information at an international level. She received the most prestigious award in veterinary medicine, the Penn World Leadership in Animal Health award in 2011 and the R.F. Gordon Memorial Medal in 2012. In the same year the Italian President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, bestowed upon her the rank of Knight (Grande Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana).
As the new director of One Health, Dr. Capua plans to expand the outlook of the center beyond the boundaries of biomedical disciplines. “The One Health concept in the biomedical disciplines is already up and running,” she said. “The veterinary, medical and agricultural communities are already working together, and this collaboration should be fostered and enhanced because there is much more to do.” However, she believes that the time is ripe to expand the One Health vision to other disciplines, and she intends to use her breadth of vision, acquired during her years serving as a member of Parliament, to facilitate a wider interaction between experts in diverse fields. “UF is the ideal place to move this project forward, given the enormous wealth in diversity and expertise on campus. I am convinced that completely novel ideas will come to light that will lead to new approaches for addressing health challenges across the globe.”