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New Canada Research Chair At OVC Will Focus On One Health

Prof. Heather Murphy, Department of Pathobiology, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph A new Canada Research Chair in One Health at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College will focus on water and health challenges at the animal, human and environmental interface.

Prof. Heather Murphy, who joined OVC’s Department of Pathobiology in September 2020, focuses her water and health research on reducing preventable waterborne diseases through applied research.

“I have been doing interdisciplinary work for many years and am excited to begin this position in the theme of One Health at U of G and broaden my research endeavours to work at the intersection of animal, human and environmental health with a focus on water,” says Murphy.

She brings experience in water and wastewater treatment, water quality, drinking water distribution, risk assessment and environmental health in both North America and abroad to her research on understanding and addressing water and health challenges in both developed and developing countries.

With a background in engineering, Murphy’s work has taken her around the world. “Through my work, the more I learned about drinking water and drinking water challenges around the world, the more I learned that many of us take water for granted.”

Her research approach includes hands-on components with community partners, incorporating social implications for a One Health approach.

She leads the Water, Health and Applied Microbiology (WHAM) Laboratory, an endeavour split between OVC and the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the College of Public Health at Temple University.

“The laboratory primarily focuses on microbiological contamination of water supplies and the subsequent impacts on public health,” says Murphy. “My lab team includes research fellows, graduate and undergraduate students interested in the field of water and health.”

Her research has traditionally focused on four key areas related to microbial quality of water and public health: surface water quality and recreation; the impact of septic systems on private wells; microbial ecology of drinking water distribution systems; and water and sanitation challenges in resource limited settings. She is keen to broaden these areas at OVC to go beyond focusing only on water and looks forward to working on projects that have implications for animal health in addition to human health.

Her research has been funded by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the National Institutes of Health, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF, Grand Challenges Canada, the Philadelphia Water Department, Drexel's Academy of Natural Sciences, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and The Department of Public Health for the City of Philadelphia.

Murphy completed an undergraduate degree in biological engineering, and Masters degree in civil engineering at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

She followed this up with a PhD in environmental engineering from the University of Guelph in 2010 where she focused on appropriate household water treatment technologies in rural Cambodia.

Following her PhD, Murphy worked for the United Nations International Emergency Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as a water, sanitation and hygiene specialist in Mali and Madagascar. While in Mali, she coordinated a $25 million dollar Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in Schools program, covering 1,000 schools, the largest program of its kind in the world.

She returned to academia in 2013 and completed a research fellowship with the Public Health Agency of Canada where she focused on quantifying the burden of waterborne disease on the Canadian population. Prior to joining OVC she was an assistant professor at Temple University for five years in their College of Public Health.

Prof. Murphy is one of three new Canada Research Chairs (CRC), along with the renewal of an existing CRC,  announced at the University of Guelph on December 16, 2020. Read the news release on the U of G website