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Quantifying Disease Risk from Food Animal Production: It’s harder than it looks

21st Annual Edward and Nancy Dodge Lecture
May 14, 2024

Lance Price


Hunting Down the Causes of Drug-Resistant Infections

BALTIMORE—April 18, 2024. “Food animal production is something we have to deal with, and it has a long list of harms. I’ve chosen to work on antibiotic resistance,” said Lance Price as he began his talk at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future’s 21st Annual Edward and Nancy Dodge Lecture. The annual lecture features a distinguished visiting scholar to address the public health implications of ecosystem change, and this year included a remembrance of Ed Dodge by Professor Emeritus Bob Lawrence.

A professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, Price (PhD ’06) proclaimed himself a harm reductionist. His work focuses on what changes can be made to the industrial food animal production system to mitigate the harms associated with that model. Price is also the founding director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University, an alumnus of the Bloomberg School, and a CLF-Lerner Fellow from 2003 to 2005.

Price echoed the warnings from health agencies about the crisis around antibiotic resistance. The World Health Organizations believes that we are headed for a post-antibiotic era, he said, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe that era is already here. He walked the audience through several research projects that have helped to build a body of knowledge about the origin, transmission, and persistence of drug-resistant bacteria that infect humans and make them ill, sometimes fatally. His focus is on drug-resistant bacteria that evolve in livestock.

In the United States, every year there are 9 billion chickens being raised for meat. Typically, there are 100,000 birds in a single chicken house. And virtually every bird carries Escherichia coli, or E. coli, in its body, one of the top two bacterial killers in the world. E. coli is the most common bacteria causing urinary tract infections, or UTIs.

In one of his research projects, Price and colleagues sequenced E. coli to determine whether UTIs in humans were being caused by strains found in meat or by strains passed from human to human. The research found that every year, more than half a million UTIs are caused by strains of E. coli that originate in meat. And there’s a significant difference in how frequently these germs are passed, depending on country income.

His research suggests that as many as 1 in 3 bloodstream infections in low and middle income countries are caused by E. coli from food animals. “We estimate more than 250,000 E. coli deaths per year could be due to E. coli from food animals,” he said. The rate in high income countries is much lower.

Throughout the lecture, Price cited research by Bloomberg School alumni Joan Casey (PhD ‘14), Meghan Davis (PhD ’12), Jay Graham (PhD ’07), Gabriel Innes (PhD ’20), Keeve Nachman (PhD ’06), and Sharon Nappier (PhD). All are former CLF-Lerner Fellows.

“We started collaborating together, and 17 years later, we’re still collaborating,” he said.

Price contends that collaborations resulting from the fellowship are part of the legacy of the Center for a Livable Future. He encouraged the latest generation of CLF-Lerner Fellows, telling them that there’s a high likelihood that bonds that they are forming now will last for the rest of their lives.

“These fellowships, it’s amazing to me, if you think about the ripples that you’re sending out, the sparks you’re sending out into the world for change, for positive change,” said Price. “These people are basing themselves on sound science to go out and make real change.”

He and his wife, Cindy Liu (MD ‘15, PhD, MPH ‘06), an Associate Professor and Chief Medical Officer of Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at the Milken Institute are excited to continue their research into E. coli in Denmark.

About Dr. Lance Price

Dr. Lance Price is a professor at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health in Washington, DC. He is also the founding director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center. Dr. Price works at the interface between science and policy to address the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance. His research, retracing the evolution and epidemiology of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, has been published in top peer-reviewed journals and covered in media outlets around the world.

In the laboratory, Dr. Price uses cutting-edge molecular approaches to trace the origins of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and develop strategies to block their transmission. In the policy arena, Dr. Price works with non-governmental organizations and policymakers to develop science-based policies to curb unnecessary antibiotic use in people and in food-animal production.

Dr. Price received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Microbiology and Biology from Northern Arizona University and his Doctorate in Environmental Health Sciences from the Johns Hopkins University, where he was a CLF-Lerner Fellow.

The Edward and Nancy Dodge Lecture is supported through the R. Edward Dodge, Jr. and Nancy L. Dodge Family Foundation Endowment, established through the generosity of Dr. Edward Dodge, MPH ’67, and his late wife Nancy to provide core funding for the Center for a Livable Future.