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$5 million USDA Grant Funds
Joint Vaccine Research Project
January 31, 2000

The Universities of Connecticut and Missouri-Columbia have been awarded a $5.1 million five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate some of the most prevalent and damaging respiratory and diarrheal diseases in cattle, swine and poultry.

Researchers from UConn's Center of Excellence for Vaccine Research and the University of Missouri's Program for Prevention of Animal Infectious Disease will combine their expertise to develop advanced vaccines for these commercially important food animals.

"Protecting our food animals from diseases caused by bacterial and viral pathogens is best afforded by effective vaccines, designed for specific microbial agents," says Steven Geary, a professor of pathobiology and director of UConn's CEVR. "It is anticipated that this joint research program could translate into vaccines that would prevent significant mortality in food animals due to disease."

Specific research aims for the program include: developing and refining new methods for applied vaccine delivery; developing new diagnostic tools for detecting infectious diseases; designing specific antimicrobial compounds targeting disease causing agents; and stimulating immune systems to increase vaccine efficacy.

As a result of this initiative, CEVR has entered into an agreement to conduct research with USDA's Plum Island Animal Disease Center off the Connecticut coast. The agreement will provide the partnership a means of working with viruses and other microorganisms that are not present in the U.S. but would represent major threats to animal populations if introduced to the mainland.

Researchers at the University of Missouri have particular expertise in modeling large animal immune systems and novel approaches to the diagnosis of infectious disease. The university's Research Animal Diagnostic and Investigative Laboratory is a national leader in the diagnosis of infection and disease in laboratory animals.

Geary says the collaboration between the two institutions is expected to lead to the development and commercialization of advanced vaccines and diagnostic applications to protect animals important to the U.S. and international economies.

"Many diseases caused by bacterial and viral pathogens are preventable by vaccination," he says. "Vaccines are the most cost-effective medical intervention to prevent death and disease. Now we have a program to combine the research efforts of these two institutions to share resources and coordinate our efforts in a more focused and efficient manner."

Despite advances in veterinary medicine and animal husbandry, infectious diseases continue to cause significant mortality in the U.S. food animal industry. Diarrheal diseases, for example, are estimated to cost swine and cattle producers $500 million annually. Bovine respiratory tract disease accounts for up to $1 billion in losses to the U.S. dairy industry.

These diseases may also have an impact on domestic food production and pricing, and can negatively affect international trade agreements, as shown by the European ban on British beef after the outbreak of "Mad Cow" disease in the U.K.

Some viral diseases in animals also present risks to humans. The 1998 outbreak of Avian flu in Hong Kong, for example, killed 17 people and prompted the slaughter of 1.3 million chickens to control the spread of the disease.

David Bauman