8 February 2018

TOP subsidies from ZonMw for continuing research into the relationship between livestock farming and health

People who live near livestock farms have an increased risk of pneumonia. In areas with many livestock farms, the presence of a farm can explain up to 20% of all lung infection cases, but the pathogens responsible are as yet unknown. Researchers from Utrecht University’s Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Erasmus University Rotterdam, and UMC Utrecht have joined together to study the possible causes of this condition. ZonMw has awarded a TOP subsidy of € 675,000 for the project proposal.

Why is pneumonia more common in areas with intensive livestock farming? What are the possible causes of these infections, and how can we reduce the risk of lung infections? The researchers participating in the ‘Respiratory health risks from intensive livestock production, risk estimation and prevention’ project hope to find the answers to these and other questions.

Reducing the risk of lung infections
“We will compare the patients suffering from lung infections who live near livestock farms with other patients who live farther away”, says Dick Heederik, who submitted the project proposal to ZonMw together with Lidwien Smit (IRAS), Marion Koopmans (EUR), Matt Coton (EUR) and Debby Bogaert (UMC Utrecht). “To do so, we will use new molecular techniques to study the connection between lung infections and exposure to micro-organisms, dust and endotoxins. With this research, we eventually hope to reduce the risk of lung infections and to obtain a scientific understanding of the causes, so that we can reduce exposure as well.”
With these new insights, the researchers hope to be able to estimate the health risks at an early phase in the event of future outbreaks of diseases caused by animals. Then we’ll be able to implement measures quickly and effectively.”

Quality of project proposal ‘extremely high’
In its introductory letter, ZonMw explains that the most important objectives of the TOP subsidies are innovative results and cooperation between research groups. The applicants are also expected to already be working together, which in this case is indicated by a joint publication and their participation in the Netherlands Center for One Health. “Our collaboration was more ad-hoc in the past, but setting up a joint project has made it much more intensive”, Heederik explains. According to ZonMw, the proposal meets the goals for a TOP subsidy. The committee therefore evaluated the quality of the application as ‘extremely high’.

“We are of course extremely pleased”, Heederik concludes. “The study of the people living in the vicinity of livestock farms has led to new concepts for research into the microbial burden generated by the farms. With this subsidy, we will be able to focus entirely on that.”