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|Integrative Research Program|
Our integrative research program is based on focal areas of research: Neuroimmunology, Animal Nutrition, Veterinary Science and Infectious Disease. The program facilitates and offers educational opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, veterinary and postdoctoral students, as well as volunteers and visiting scientists. The Research Department works closely with our husbandry, education, and exhibit staff to integrate research into our public and educational programming. External collaborations and partnerships with Universities e.g. UCONN, industry e.g. Pfizer, and other marine institutes e.g. Alaska Sea Life Center, contribute to the success of the research program. The research carried out impacts the state and northeast region, as well as national and global marine issues.
Neuroimmunology is the study of the nervous and immune systems, how these two systems communicate with each other, and how “stress” and environmental influences as “perceived” by the nervous system may affect the immune system and ultimately health. Neuroimmunology contributes to an understanding of the marine mammal immune system, how it compares with the human immune system and those of other animals and what factors affect it. Through an understanding of Neuroimmunology we hope to use therapeutic or behavioral modification to mitigate stress responses in captive and/or stranded animals, come up with ways to enhance the immune response in compromised animals, and determine how stressors such as loud sound, environmental pollutants, changes in environmental conditions, chase and encirclement with fishing nets, impact marine mammals worldwide. Lastly, unique findings related to these two systems in marine mammals will contribute to both human and veterinary medicine.
In both captivity and the wild, nutritionally-associated diseases can cause the demise of an individual, and potentially the depletion of a population. Nutritional status information is a key component in understanding the health of an individual and a population's fitness. Although many nutritional studies originate in response to a medical issue, such as iron storage disease, or a husbandry issue, such as salt supplementation for aquatic species maintained in freshwater exhibits, there are inherent advantages to a proactive approach. Determination of baseline concentrations of important nutrients and maintenance of adequate diets and supplements for captive animals with limited dietary choices is extremely important for their continued success in zoos and aquariums.
Although many milestones have been achieved in aquatic animal medicine, there is still a dearth of diagnostic modalities specifically applicable to aquatic animal diagnosis and preventative medicine. Through advanced technologies in molecular biology and microbiology, better methodologies will be explored for improved diagnostics, prognostics, therapeutics, and preventative strategies for aquatic animal health and advancement of clinical medicine.
Our knowledge of infectious diseases in aquatic animals is increasing exponentially. An increased long term effort will be required to improve our understanding of the pathogenesis, etiology, prevalence and zoonotic potential of diseases of marine species. This understanding is critical not only for the health and conservation of these species; it poses significant implications for human health as well.
The goals of the Research Department over the next few years are to build up the research projects, scientific expertise, educational opportunities and collaborations in each research focus area. A Research and Education Center will be constructed to foster the Aquarium’s mission of Research and Education. For more information on Research Projects, Scientific Expertise, Educational Opportunities, Collaborative Research Projects, and the Research and Education Center, click on the related links.
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