During a 30-year government career, Jitender Dubey identified and has led the fight to control three harmful parasitic diseases in farm animals and pets, curtailing the transfer of these diseases to humans, saving tens of thousands of lives and reducing human disabilities.
“Jitender Dubey has revolutionized the scientific study of parasitic diseases of livestock and humans through his pioneering identification of the life cycles and ecology of the parasites and how they infect their hosts,” said Chavonda Jacobs-Young, the administrator of the Agricultural Research Service.
Jacobs-Young said that many critical farm management practices and hygienic measures to control and prevent disease transmission today are based largely on Dubey’s scientific achievements.
Much of Dubey’s groundbreaking work has centered on Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), one of the most widespread parasites in the world. Infection from this parasite can occur when humans and animals are exposed to contaminated soil, water, food or used cat litter. Infection also can take place when people consume undercooked meat containing the parasite.
Toxoplasmosis, the disease caused by the parasite, can cause mental retardation and blindness in humans and cause pregnant sheep and goats to lose their young. A World Health Organization panel estimated that toxoplasmosis has infected more than 10 million people globally.
In the United States, toxoplasmosis accounts for only 1 percent of the illnesses caused by the top 14 foodborne pathogens, yet the disease results in 8 percent of hospitalizations and 25 percent of deaths from these infections. Those suffering from cancer, autoimmune diseases, AIDS or other illnesses that compromise the immune system are most vulnerable to toxoplasmosis.
Until Dubey’s discovery, no one knew how the infection was transmitted. Dubey developed safety guidelines that are used by food safety authorities throughout the world, and his work led to warning labels being placed on cat litter to prevent the spread of the disease.
“Every cat owner is following guidance from Dr. Dubey,’’ said Jacobs-Young. “Many Americans will be handling cat litter in a safer way.”
Dubey discovered another parasite called Neospora caninum that led to practices that have saved millions of dollars by preventing cattle from miscarrying. Neosporosis, the disease caused by the parasite, was responsible for the loss of many dairy cows in California.
Dubey also examined Sarcocystis neurona, a parasite that is the most common cause of a serious neurological disease first recognized in horses and subsequently in a wide range of mammals, including endangered marine mammals. His team discovered this parasite, cultivated it in a cell culture, identified its life cycle, developed diagnostic tests and advocated control measures. Prior to Dubey’s discovery and the adoption of preventive measures, the parasitic disease caused numerous deaths of horses and had a serious impact on the horse racing industry.
“Jitender Dubey is a force of nature,’ said Benjamin Rosenthal, research leader and zoologist at the Agricultural Research Service.
“He has really surpassed any reasonable measure of scientific accomplishment and public service in his many years with the Agricultural Research Service. He is more motivated than anyone I have ever met by a sense of civic duty and public trust,” Rosenthal said.
A native of India, Dubey came to the United States on a scholarship and worked his way to a professorship at Ohio State and the University of Montana before joining the Agricultural Research Service.
Jeffrey Jones, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Dubey’s work has “always been on the cutting edge.” He said Dubey’s research has “led to the decrease in congenital diseases” and represents critical advances in animal and human health.
Dubey has trained researchers from more than a dozen countries and is the author of, or contributor to, some 1,400 publications. Yet those who have worked with Dubey said he is never too busy to help a colleague solve a problem or to be a mentor.
“At every occasion, he takes time to say how honored he feels to have been given this opportunity and to have come to such a wonderful place committed to public service and open inquiry,” Rosenthal said. “He is so very proud to have been able to come here, to be embraced and to be supported and recognized as an American.”
Dubey said his discoveries that have prevented disease in farm animals and humans, and improved food safety have been truly rewarding.
“This is the reason I get up every morning and look forward to coming to work even at an age when I could retire,” Dubey said. “I have been fortunate to be able to make advancements in science and to benefit society.”