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Berquist named director of Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases

Melissa Hefferin Berquist (2)After serving as associate director since 2011, Melissa Berquist, Ph.D., has been named director of the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD), effective March 9, 2017. The Institute, which is a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Center of Excellence (COE) and member of the Texas A&M University System, focuses on research, education and outreach to promote and enhance animal, public and ecosystem health by providing innovative, sustainable and inter-disciplinary solutions to address complex global challenges.

Since Berquist joined the Institute, she has been key to the overwhelming success IIAD has experienced in growing its portfolios. Berquist’s leadership has helped facilitate portfolio expansion from 10 or less annual projects to more than 50; grow annual research awards from $4 million to $20 million; and increase the diversity of partnerships to include industry, government and international sponsors. In addition, the Institute – which was established in 2004 as a DHS COE – has consistently been a top performer in multiple DHS portfolios.

“IIAD has become a recognized leader in providing research and development solutions to meet the needs of our industry, government and international partners,” Berquist said. “Over the years, the Institute has evolved from a primary emphasis on agrodefense and bioterrorism to a more inclusive portfolio that also covers domestic and international endemic disease challenges. Despite the expanded focus, we place a continuing emphasis on domestic threats of concern for our state and federal partners, as well as developing solutions for our industry customers.“

Through this evolution, the Institute has expanded its mission to promote and enhance global animal, public and ecosystem health by providing innovative, sustainable, inter-disciplinary solutions addressing complex global challenges – and partnerships have expanded to place IIAD in a key position to contribute technology innovation to meet that scale. As director, Berquist will provide leadership, strategic vision and oversight for that mission through collaborating with the Institute’s vast network of partners – one that leverages the resources of multiple major universities, Minority Serving Institutions, international collaborators, state and government officials, private industry partners and other non-government organizations.

“I look forward to the opportunity to serve IIAD in a greater capacity as director and envision continued success in activities supporting the Institute’s mission,” Berquist said. “IIAD’s technologies, expertise and knowledge have the ability to impact childhood nutrition, household livelihoods and increase the standard of living in areas of deep economic depression while also building capacity to support disease control and eradication – decreasing the potential for transboundary disease introduction in the U.S. and helping create a world safe and secure from infectious disease threats.”

“Dr. Berquist’s accomplishments as associate director have directly correlated to the Institute’s success over its relatively short lifetime and her transition to director will certainly benefit the Institute and AgriLife as a whole,” said Craig Nessler, Ph.D, director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research. “Texas A&M AgriLife Research strives to deliver industry-changing impacts to citizens throughout Texas and around the world – there’s no doubt that the impact of our partner research institutes like IIAD play a large and vital role in our agency’s mission.”

A graduate of Northwestern University with a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering, Berquist earned her doctorate in molecular medicine/molecular and cellular biology from the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine. Berquist joined IIAD following almost three years at BAI, Inc., a professional services company in Alexandria, Va., first as a senior biosurety analyst and then as a senior analyst and program coordinator.  While at BAI, she worked with biodefense research sponsored by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, where she served in a contract support role for the DHS Office of University Programs, specifically managing IIAD and related DHS Science and Technology Centers of Excellence.

Headquartered in College Station, Texas, IIAD was founded in 2004 as a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Center of Excellence. The Institute focuses on research, education and outreach to prevent, detect, mitigate and recover from transboundary, emerging and/or zoonotic diseases, which may be introduced intentionally or through natural processes. In 2014, IIAD was recognized by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) as a Collaborating Centre in the specialty of biological threat reduction. IIAD is the only Centre of this kind in OIE’s America’s region and the only OIE Collaborating Centre within the Texas A&M University System. For more information, visit iiad.tamu.edu.

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