Srirama Rao

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PEOPLE: THE HEART OF THE CVM

Srirama Rao 

A decade ago, when Srirama Rao got a call from the University of Minnesota asking him to consider a position with the College of Veterinary Medicine, he didn’t know how to respond: “My first reaction was, ‘I’m not a vet. How will I assist with needs of a veterinary college?’” Rao, who holds a PhD in immunology, recalls.

Yet the more he thought about it, the more alluring the opportunity seemed. In 2007, he moved from San Diego to the Twin Cities to accept a post as professor and associate dean of research, a job that initially involved developing the concept of One Medicine and One Science (COMOS), aimed at breaking down silos that might otherwise keep researchers from collaborating with each other.

Srirama Rao

As a professor with a joint appointment in the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Medical School, Rao would have the opportunity to continue his own research in asthma and allergies while simultaneously focusing and harnessing the power of other researchers as they tackled big questions in animal and human health, infectious diseases, and ecosystem health. As one of his first tasks at the CVM, Rao was charged with designing a strategic plan that focused the college’s research on comparative medicine, emerging, zoonotic and other infectious diseases, and population systems.

Cross-departmental and cross-collegiate collaborative research is important, says Rao, because it helps scientists “connect the dots” and avoid “reinventing the wheel” in their pursuit of answers to the world’s important questions. Learning from other people allows researchers to harness new technologies and adapt processes to fit their own projects without having to start from scratch. That creates dynamic results, Rao says: “By implementing our strategic plan and focusing our research efforts, we’ve been able to bring scientists across disciplines together and harness resources and ideas in a way you couldn’t otherwise do.”

Srirama Rao at iCOMOS

Like many of his colleagues, Rao also believes strongly in the value of local, regional, and international collaborations. He has helped organize the International Conference on One Medicine One Science (iCOMOS), a global forum to communicate the importance of science in solving pressing health issues at the interface of humans, animals, and the environment, as well as science and policy affecting environment, agriculture and medicine.

“As we better understand One Health, we become more prepared to deal with social and societal impacts on health,” Rao says. “As a college, we have a lot to be proud of. I can’t take any personal credit, but collectively, we’ve taken a leadership role in advancing COMOS and the science behind One Health.”