First TED Veterinarian Celebrated for Advancing 'Zoognosis'
As the first veterinarian selected to become a TED fellow, Claire Simeone, DVM, has focused her career on improving health across all species through knowledge transfer.
Photo: Lawrence Sumulong / TED
Becoming a TED fellow was a goal Claire Simeone, DVM, had been working toward for a long time. But actually learning that she had been selected into the 2018 class was surreal. “It was amazing,” she recalled. “It was like a dream come true.”
Dr. Simeone has now joined the ranks of 453 other TED fellows from 96 countries, ranging from scientists to artists, activists to entrepreneurs, doctors to journalists, and now, 1 veterinarian.
As a conservation veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center (MMC) in Sausalito, California, Dr. Simeone has been studying how the health of marine mammals informs and influences human and ocean health.
She launched the MMC’s International Veterinarian In-Residence program, which mentors veterinarians from around the world in marine mammal health. “I’ve been really proud of the great work these veterinarians have done in their own countries,” Dr. Simeone said. “It’s great that we can have a small part in supporting that,” she said.
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In her previous position at the National Marine Fisheries Service, she was part of a team focused on developing the Marine Mammal Health Map, a tool designed to provide a centralized data reporting system to track marine mammal health. “The hope is that this will provide a place where marine mammal health data can be overlaid with existing data sets, like oceanographic data, to help give a clear picture of what is influencing health,” Dr. Simeone said.
The Impact of Zoognosis
Photo: Lawrence Sumulong / TED
At the international TED2018 conference held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Dr. Simeone explained her concept of “zoognosis,” which she described as a new kind of learning between humans and animals. “We often think about how knowledge transfer goes one way—we learn about animals and we treat animals—but really it goes in both directions,” Dr. Simeone said. “It’s like a circle.” Just as a zoonotic disease can pass from animals to people, zoognosis recognizes that knowledge transfer happens both ways as well.
The concept of zoognosis, she said, considers the One Health perspective more broadly, so it’s not just diseases that transfer, but the knowledge itself. Dr. Simeone discussed several examples of zoognosis during her TED Talk:
- A gel intended for use in humans is now being infused with medication to treat corneal ulcers in sea lions at the MMC.
- New backpack technology created to feed starving newborn elephant seals at the MMC could also aid in the delivery of needed nutrients to endangered baby Hawaiian monk seals.
- Sick sea lions can alert marine veterinarians of a biotoxic acid present in ocean waters off California, which in turn helps the public health department protect humans.
Zoognosis Is Everywhere
While Dr. Simeone focused her TED Talk on the immense knowledge that can be shared between marine mammals and humans, she noted that zoognosis is not solely restricted to these species. “It’s not restricted to marine mammals or even medical innovations,” she said. “Once people start to really think about zoongosis and how it applies in their lives, they will realize that it’s everywhere and in everything that they do.”