Research

Research in FAHRP broadly encompasses three areas:

Animal Disease

Animal
Disease

Animal Models of Human Disease

Animal Models of Human Disease

Food Safety

Zoonoses and Food Safety


Animal Disease

Respiratory Diseases: These continue to be a major welfare and economic concern to livestock producers. Respiratory diseases in general are multifactorial. Co-infection of animal with more than one respiratory etiologic agent is common and often results in increased clinical signs when compared to single agent infections. While many studies are being conducted to evaluate the contribution of the pathogen and host immune status, another factor that has been overlooked is the microbiome (or total microbial community including viruses, bacteria and microeukaryotes which inhabit the avian respiratory tract). Considering the co-evolution of a pathogen with its host environment, the characteristics of the respiratory microbiome impact both susceptibility and disease outcome. FAHRP scientists work closely with industry and state government officials to detect emerging respiratory pathogens and provide rapid diagnostic service including detailed molecular and biologic studies to assess the potential threat of the pathogens to animals and human. Our efforts include investigating the multifactorial etiology involving respiratory diseases and developing improved diagnostic tools, vaccines, and novel preventive measures.

Immunosuppressive Diseases: The immune system of animals works to clear microbial infections. Some microbes, however, infect the cells of the immune system itself, leading to immunosuppression, a condition characterized by a reduction of immune system function. Animals that survive can be left permanently immune suppressed and are more susceptible to secondary infections. They also exhibit a decreased response to vaccinations which are critical for the control of many diseases. Immunosuppressive diseases may be subclinical and go unnoticed. Therefore, the true economic impact of immunosuppressive diseases in food producing animals is difficult to estimate because subclinical immune suppression can exacerbate disease caused by opportunistic microorganisms that normally would not be pathogenic in a healthy host.

Enteric Diseases: Viral gastroenteritis is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in children and neonates worldwide and an important pathogen in young animals. Recurrent enteric infections affect intestinal absorption, nutrition, and intestinal microbiome, ultimately modulating immunity and overall health. Efficient vaccines against enteric viruses are often unavailable or failing due to difficulties in induction of lasting mucosal immune response. Therefore, development of the strategies to beneficially manipulate the immune response and to control enteric infections requires a systematic approach. Integration of studies evaluating disease pathogenesis, pathogen epidemiology, associated changes in the microbiome and immunomodulation by environmental factors and nutrients is of utmost importance. We conduct diagnostic and epidemiological studies to detect and characterize endemic or emerging enteric pathogens of animals and to evaluate their potential for zoonotic spread. FAHRP scientists use gnotobiotic (Gn) pig model to study human and animal enteric disease pathogenesis and immune responses to design vaccines and interventions. Specifically, we study the interactions among nutrients, probiotics, maternal immune factors and the intestinal microbiome, and their combined impacts on the neonatal innate immunity and protection against enteric infections. Our goal is to combine manifold approaches to understand host-pathogen interactions and to prevent, intervene or optimally manage enteric viral infections.

Vaccines: Vaccination is the most viable mitigation strategy to reduce suffering of humans and animals from infectious and zoonotic diseases. So far we are successful in effective control of a few diseases through vaccination, and unsuccessful against many vaccine-preventable diseases. To improve the health of humans and food animals and achieve economic growth in the area of agriculture and food production, control of existing, emerging and reemerging diseases through development and use of effective vaccines is critical. Difficulties in developing effective vaccines against most of the pathogens have been attributed to highly mutagenic nature of the organisms (RNA viruses) and mechanisms adapted by pathogens to evade the host immune system. Therefore, development of innovative vaccine technologies, immune potentiators, adjuvants, and discovery of alternate vaccine delivery platforms through extensive research are highly warranted to improve the global food production and human health.

Animal Models of Human Disease

Animals play an important role in understanding human disease pathogenesis. In order to study a human disease you cannot, for ethical reasons, conduct the initial studies on humans. Therefore, animal models are needed to replicate the condition and/or disease of interest to a similar degree as seen in humans. It is expected that investigations into these animal models will provide insight into the progression of the disease that can be extrapolated to treating and/or preventing the disease in humans. A model species should be relatively easy to handle and readily available. Additionally, it should be able to recapitulate the disease of interest and give birth to multiple offspring in each gestation. Historically, the most common animal model for human disease is the mouse due to its similarities in anatomy and cell biology. Using transgenic approaches, mouse models can be developed to accurately demonstrate the pathology of the disease. However, other mammalian species, such as swine, are used as successful animal models. Pigs are an attractive animal model for investigating human diseases because of the similarity of pigs and humans in the respiratory and digestive tracts and the immune system. The use of pigs in animal research may provide a more relevant model for translating treatments and prevention of disease to human patients.

zoonoses and Food Safety

Zoonoses are defined by the World Health Organization as “diseases and infections that are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and humans.” Our department is studying the antigenic and genetic relationships of animal viruses, such as influenza viruses, rotaviruses, coronaviruses and caliciviruses, to their human counterparts to assess their zoonotic potential and to delineate mechanisms of interspecies transmission. We also develop specific assays for their detection and differentiation in animals and foods. Additionally, we are working to understand the pathogenesis and survival mechanisms of zoonotic foodborne bacteria, such as Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, Listeria, Salmonella, and Campylobacter.

Major interests in Food Safety include pre-harvest control of bacterial and viral zoonoses, specifically, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, Listeria, Salmonella, Campylobacter and noroviruses and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) mitigation. Research is focused on defining the epidemiology and ecology of these pathogens in food animals, water and environment; understanding the epidemiology and emergence of AMR in food animal production; understanding molecular mechanisms of how these zoonotic pathogens interact with food animals as well as fresh produce; and developing novel diagnostics vaccines, therapeutics, and antibiotic alternative approaches for preharvest control of these zoonotic pathogens and mitigation of AMR. Our projects integrate epidemiological principles with traditional microbiology and molecular and geospatial techniques to understand pathogen and AMR dispersion and in food animals, wildlife populations, vegetables and fruits, and in environmental reservoirs including water and use state of theart omics based approaches to define host-environment-pathogen interactions and controlstrategies. Methods to enhance outreach and education to stakeholders through improved risk communication are also emphasized.