Professor of Biological Sciences
Vector biology is a field that is as critical to human health as its name is mysterious to just about everyone but those of us who specialize in it.
Disease vectors are organisms like mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas that transmit pathogens between humans and animals. Vector-borne diseases—including malaria, which I study, and dengue—take a staggering toll on human lives.
According to the World Health Organization, more than half the world’s population is at risk, one billion are infected, and over one million die of vector-borne diseases every year. About half of the deaths are due to malaria, a disease that is—in principle—treatable and curable. In poverty-stricken tropical regions where most of these diseases predominate, vector control is an essential, and often the only, means to reduce transmission.
Although vector-borne diseases have scourged humans for millennia, the role of vectors in disease transmission was recognized only at the dawn of the 20th century. Scientists who study vectors and vector-borne diseases comprise a field that is small by any measure, and disproportionately small relative to the disease burden.
Against all odds and true to the spirit of Fr. Sorin, Notre Dame distinguished itself early on as one of the few institutions worldwide with a concentration of faculty in this area, and their international reputation for excellence followed soon thereafter.
It started in 1957 with the hiring of George B. Craig, Jr. and the establishment of the renowned Vector Biology Laboratory. The lab laid the foundation for the Center for Tropical Disease Research and Training (1998), which itself was later expanded into the Eck Institute for Global Health (2008) with generous support from a Strategic Research Investment and the Eck family. It is because of this rich tradition in vector biology that I have been proud to call the University of Notre Dame my home since 1997.
Equally important to me is the fact that, unlike what has happened at so many other universities, our biology department was not splintered into more specialized departments. I count myself a vector biologist, but vector biology encompasses all of biology, from the workings of a cell to interactions among organisms and ecosystems. Notre Dame’s Department of Biological Sciences offers the integrative, multidisciplinary environment that allows my work to thrive and that is fundamental to 21st-century biological research and training.