USDA awards University of Minnesota over $1.5 million to research Foreign Animal Disease

Two projects: one lead by Andres Perez, DVM, PhD and Jerry Torrison, DVM, PhD, DACVPM focuses on surveillance and detection of foreign animal disease, one lead by Sunil Mor, BVSc & AH, MVSc, PhD, aims to develop rapid field test for foot-and-mouth disease.

Newly funded: Enhancement and streamlining diagnostic testing of foreign animal disease

This article was previously published on the UMN College of Veterinary Medicine website on January 3, 2022.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded University of Minnesota researchers nearly $1 million to investigate measures that would improve the surveillance and detection of foreign animal disease (FAD)—an effort under a brighter spotlight after the confirmation of African swine fever over the summer in the Dominican Republic (DR).   

Sign reading "Keep out Disease Control Area"

The discovery of the virus in the DR marks the first incursion of the disease into the Americas since 1984, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health. The highly contagious virus is capable of wiping out domestic and feral pig herds, decimating production, and causing significant potential economic loss. ASF is not harmful to human health. 

The current standard of surveillance of FAD in the U.S. relies on cooperative producers and practitioners to gather and send suspect samples to approved labs based on their best judgements. As part of this new study, the research team will look at two additional strategies.

First, they’ll add coordinated, enhanced passive surveillance (EPS) approaches in swine farms to the current standards of practice. 

Then, they’ll bolster that strategy by adding three different field-based, point-of-need diagnostic tests for suspected FAD cases sussed out by EPS—in an effort to gather the most accurate results as quickly as possible.  

RELATED: Newly funded: Investigating swine industry biocontainment strategies for airborne diseases

To apply field testing in real-world scenarios, they’ll work the surveillance techniques in one or two ASF-infected locations—and work the same surveillance techniques while monitoring Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Virus in Minnesota. This will allow the scientists to measure the efficacy of the techniques against two swine diseases of serious concern—to ensure the process works.

The ultimate goal, the researchers say, is to decrease the time between introduction of the disease and the first confirmed case—to enhance the national capacity for early detection in an effort to mitigate the effects of outbreaks. 

The two-year study begins Jan. 1.

Newly funded: research on foot-and-mouth disease rapid testing

This article was originally published on the College of Veterinary Medicine website on January 11, 2022.

A University of Minnesota researcher has secured more than $500,000 from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to research and develop a rapid field test for foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), a critical mitigating solution for a disease that causes economic loss of up to $21 billion in those parts of the world where it’s endemic.

Herd of cows

FMD is a highly contagious vesicular disease that causes blisters on various body parts of cloven-hoofed animals like cattle and swine. The disease reduces livestock productivity and causes direct economic loss to farmers through slower animal weight gain, decreased milk production, abortions, and increased mortality in young calves and pigs, according to the USDA. Indirectly, an outbreak of FMD in the U.S.—wherein there has not been a case since 1929—could cause economic loss from the closure of foreign borders to U.S. livestock exports.

The best way to mitigate FMD outbreaks is to find the disease quickly—to reduce the time between suspicion of an outbreak and confirmation. But current testing methods require samples be sent to diagnostic laboratories—a costly and time-consuming process. For this project, researchers led by Sunil Mor, BVSc & AH, MVSc, PhD, in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine, aim to develop an easy-to-use, accessible molecular diagnostic field test that would produce results in 30 minutes.  

RELATED: Research roundup: Are areas of greater human and animal populations critical for shaping patterns of foot-and-mouth disease spread in East Africa?

To round out the test, which they plan to call “FMDsure,” the scientists will also develop a simple method for preparing samples that would fall within that 30-minute timeline. The test results would display as positive, negative, or non-conclusive, eliminating user misinterpretation. They will assess the test’s sensitivity by running it against current diagnostic lab tests for the disease. 

Where the disease is endemic, as in portions of South America and large swaths of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, the high monetary and time costs, or a dearth of accessible labs, are barriers to diagnosing an outbreak—which can spread quickly. This test would represent a low-frills, less expensive alternative that would be widely accessible to farmers and field veterinarians. 

Key to the $554,768 project are Dr. Yogesh Chander of Varigen Biosciences, an expert in developing point-of-care diagnostic assays based on loop-mediated isothermal amplification technology, on which the test will be based, and Dr. Victor Ngu Ngwa of the University of Ngaoundere, Cameroon, who will lead the evaluation of diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of the FMDsure kit using clinical samples.

The project is slated to begin on Jan. 1 and run through December of 2023.

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