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Veterinary college battles infectious diseases

Although infectious diseases affecting humans and animals have always existed, their economic consequences have become increasingly visible during the past several centuries as people began to rely more thoroughly on agricultural animals for food, locomotion, and draft.

Whether they affect people, animals, or both, diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, and other infectious agents have wreaked havoc on both public health and economies for ages. It’s no wonder, then, that modern science has focused much effort on developing vaccines and treatments to quell these threats.

For decades, research in infectious diseases has been a hallmark of excellence in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine’s predecessor institutions: the departments of veterinary science at Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland at College Park.

   

Nammalwar Sriranganathan in the lab In his Center for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease laboratory, Nammalwar Sriranganathan, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, conducts testing on Bacillus anthracis -- the bacterium that causes anthrax. Classified as a Category A agent, anthrax can be used as a biological weapon and poses a possible threat to public health. Sriranganathan is working to develop a vaccine against the disease.

A hemorrhagic enteritis vaccine, for example, invented by Virginia Tech Professor Emeritus Charles Domermuth was credited with saving the poultry industry $300 million. In addition, the regional college’s Maryland campus earned national recognition for its historic work with avian infectious diseases and currently supports one of the world’s leading research efforts on Avian Influenza H5N1.

Not surprisingly, academic strength in infectious disease research has been a major initiative for the veterinary college since its founding. The creation of the Center for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease in the 1980s provided a powerful foundation that led to several major advancements in immunology and vaccine production, including the RB-51 brucellosis vaccine now widely used around the world.

Building upon that platform, bacteriologist Nammalwar Sriranganathan and molecular biologist Stephen Boyle and others are working to develop multivalent vaccines that can simultaneously protect against anthrax, plague, and other diseases.

   

Gerhardt Schurig and Bill Pierson give a presentation Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, dean of the veterinary college, and Dr. Bill Pierson, director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, address members of the Virginia House of Delegates and staff officers. Schurig and Pierson presented remarks on H5N1, more commonly known as avian influenza, and the efforts of the college to address the related global health threat.

The Tyler J. and Frances F. Young Professor of Bacteriology Tom Inzana has developed two vaccines for swine pleuropneumonia and is working on vaccines for bovine respiratory disease complex and tularemia. Parasitologist David Lindsay and colleagues are perfecting approaches for treating cryptosporidiosis and toxiplasmosis.

Several years ago, Virginia Tech’s decision to support a campus-wide cluster hire of infectious disease scholars enabled the veterinary college to substantially expand the capacity of its virology research. And the momentum continues. Working at the molecular level, these researchers are examining the pathogenesis of disease and developing vaccines through the elucidation of host-pathogen interactions.

In the past year, the college’s virology team was awarded close to $4 million in new, sponsored research funding. Much of the strength behind this increasing momentum is the result of the work of Dr. X.J. Meng, an internationally recognized virologist and physician. Meng recently invented a Type-2 porcine circovirus vaccine that is being marketed around the world, and his laboratory is recognized as one of the world’s leading Hepatitis E research centers.

The veterinary college’s virology group will soon occupy new space in the Integrated Life Sciences Research Building taking shape at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center. In less than a year, the college will break ground on a new infectious disease research facility on the main campus.

And based on what history has shown us, the timing for both the move and the new facility couldn’t be better.

  • For more information on this topic, contact Jeffrey Douglas at (540) 231-7911.

Impacting public health and the economy

   

X.J. Meng in the lab Professor X.J. Meng's research on the development of vaccines against zoonotic viral diseases impacts public health and the economy.

Meng recently developed and licensed Suvaxyn PCV2OneDose, a vaccine against PCV-2, a deadly swine disease. The vaccine is expected to save the global swine industry millions of dollars.

The Deans' Forum on Infectious Diseases was held in September 2008 and showcased the university's latest research, activity, and expertise in the area of infectious diseases.

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