VCU Rice Center

Photo of sunlit trees
News and events

VCU Rice Center recently announced the addition of a Conservation Medicine Program

At the Jan. 24 meeting of the VCU Rice Center Board of Trustees, a new Conservation Medicine Program was announced to unite the study of human, animal and environmental health at the VCU Rice Center.

Dr. Joy Ware was appointed as the first Director of the Conservation Medicine Program. Dr. Ware is a Professor in the Department of Pathology in the VCU School of Medicine and in addition to being a nationally recognized cancer researcher. She is also active in the investigation of wildlife diseases. She is a member of the Wildlife Diseases Association and the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians. Dr. Ware has already brought together a strong team of researchers from both the academic and medical campuses to focus on amphibian and reptile health and disease. Following an initial finding of a new type of fungal infection in both spotted and marbled salamanders at the VCU Rice Center, Dr. Ware and several collaborators around the state are investigating the distribution and significance of this disease for amphibians of Virginia.

Monitoring the population dynamics, migration, and health status of salamander species inhabiting the VCU Rice Center and area refuges not only will provide important insights into the baseline health of amphibians but will also facilitate development of conservation strategies worldwide. These salamanders are excellent environmental monitors of local and regional conditions. Disease development often accompanies immune suppression due to climate change, chemical contaminants and pesticides. Thus, these animals may act as indicators of environmental changes that could one day affect human health. It is unfortunate that there are observed declines in amphibian populations worldwide since it has already been found that increased biodiversity reduces the incidence of Lyme Disease in people and some investigators have shown that when tick nymphs attach to some species of lizards, the blood of the lizard actually kills the bacteria that cause Lyme Disease. Dr. Ware has therefore determined that in conjunction with the study on salamanders, a portion of the conservation medicine research will be focused on the further investigation of the possibility that Eastern Fence lizard blood can kill the agent that causes Lyme Disease.