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New research projects aim to stop spread of African swine fever and prevent outbreak in the U.S.

New research projects aim to stop spread of African swine fever and prevent outbreak in the U.S.

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African swine fever virus threatens to devastate the swine industry and is positioned to spread throughout Asia. The virus has spread throughout the Caucuses region of Eastern Europe and was reported in China in August. It recently was detected in wild boar in Belgium.

Kansas State University researchers and the Biosecurity Research Institute have several projects focused on African swine fever. Their research topics vary, but they share the same goal of stopping the spread of African swine fever and preventing it from reaching the U.S.

If African swine fever enters the U.S., it could cause billions in economic losses to swine and other industries, animal disease experts say. It would devastate trade and international markets.

There is no vaccine or cure for the disease, which causes hemorrhagic fever and high mortality in pigs. It does not infect humans.

“African swine fever’s introduction into China poses an increased threat to the U.S.,” said Stephen Higgs, director of the Biosecurity Research Institute. “Introduction of African swine fever virus into the U.S. would have an enormous impact on our agricultural industry. Research, education and training at the Biosecurity Research Institute help to improve our understanding and preparedness for this threat.”

In 2013, the Biosecurity Research Institute became the first non-federal facility to be approved for work with African swine fever virus, Higgs said. The university projects at the Biosecurity Research Institute are part of research that can transition to the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility, or NBAF, once it is fully functional. African swine fever is one of the diseases slated to be researched at NBAF, which is under construction adjacent to Kansas State University’s Manhattan campus.

The African swine fever projects at Kansas State University are funded in part by the $35 million State of Kansas National Bio and Agro-defense Facility Fund and also have received support from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the pork industry.

Here are some of the Kansas State University faces behind the fight against African swine fever.

Ying Fang

Name: Ying Fang, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine
Areas of study related to African swine fever: Vaccine and diagnostic reagent/assay development.
Description of the research: Fang’s lab has generated African swine fever virus-specific monoclonal antibodies for diagnostic assay development. In a collaborative project with Raymond “Bob” Rowland, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, and Biao He at the University of Georgia, her lab also is developing vector vaccines against African swine fever infection.
Why the research is important: “Recent African swine fever outbreaks in China and now Europe pose the potential pandemic threat to global swine industry,” Yang said. “Specific diagnostic assays and effective vaccines are urgently needed for disease control and prevention.”
More information:

Waithaka Mwangi

Name: Waithaka Mwangi, associate professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Areas of study related to African swine fever: Vaccine development and diagnostic tools.
Recent African swine fever-related research: Publication in PLOS ONE; publication in Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology; publication in Clinical and Vaccine Immunology; publication in the Journal of General Virology
Description of the research: Mwangi has been studying African swine fever for several years and has filed patents related to development of vaccines and diagnostic tools. In his latest research, Mwangi and Raymond “Bob” Rowland, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, as well as Shehnaz Lokhandwala, postdoctoral fellow in diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, have tested vaccine prototypes at the Biosecurity Research Institute. Some of their vaccines have shown 56 percent protection against African swine fever and they have several studies pending to evaluate additional vaccine prototypes.
Mwangi’s lab also is developing diagnostic tools, including a highly-sensitive lateral flow diagnostic device for African swine fever. He is partnering with several companies and has received funding from the Department of Homeland Security, the National Pork Board and the Department of Agriculture as well as the State of Kansas National Bio and Agro-defense Facility Fund.
Why the research is important: “African swine fever is a high-consequence transboundary animal disease for which there is no vaccine or treatment available,” Mwangi said. “Thus, development of vaccines and a diagnostic test capable of differentiating infected from vaccinated animals is critically important to safeguard the swine industry and preserve future competitiveness of the U.S. pork industry. In addition, these vaccines will help in controlling virus spread in endemic regions and thereby minimize the transmission threat to the U.S.”
More information:

Megan Niederwerder

Name: Megan Niederwerder, assistant professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Areas of study related to African swine fever: Risk of virus introduction and transmission through feed or feed ingredients and potential mitigation tools.
Recent African swine fever-related research: Publication in PLOS ONE
Description of the research: Niederwerder’s latest research has found that African swine fever virus could survive in a simulated feed shipment across the ocean, which suggests that feed may be a potential route that pathogens such as African swine fever virus spread. Her recent publication in the journal PLOS ONE is the first publication demonstrating the survival of African swine fever virus in feed ingredients.
Niederwerder is collaborating with the Biosecurity Research Institute to continue studying the risk of African swine fever virus in feed and feed ingredients. She is studying the whole swine feed transport cycle — from the shipment of feed ingredients as they are imported into the U.S. to when swine consume feed on the farm. Niederwerder also is investigating potential mitigation strategies, such as storage time and chemical mitigants, to reduce the risk of African swine fever virus in feed.
Why the research is important: “Although feed is a less recognized transmission route for African swine fever, the global distribution of feed and feed ingredients makes this route important to consider as a possible factor in transboundary spread,” Niederwerder said. “Our research is focused on understanding the role that feed plays in viral transmission, through defining the oral infectious dose and stability in feed ingredients, and learning what mitigation tools may be utilized to reduce the risk of African swine fever virus introduction into the U.S.”
More information:

Jürgen Richt

Name: Jürgen Richt, Regents distinguished professor and director of the university’s Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases, or CEEZAD.
Areas of study related to African swine fever: Novel vaccines and diagnostic approaches.
Recent African swine fever-related research: Publications from the Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases
Description of the research: Richt was principal investigator of a CEEZAD-based research project that developed an approach based on prime-boost vaccination, combining African swine fever virus antigens encoded by DNA plasmids and recombinant African swine fever virus proteins with the aim to activate both humoral and cellular immunity. Richt also has developed gene-deleted African swine fever viruses to be used as modified live virus vaccines using CRISPR-Cas9 knock-out approaches in collaboration with Yolanda Revilla at Centro de Biologia Molecular Severo Ochoa in Madrid.
In diagnostics, Richt leads CEEZAD efforts to develop tests for the detection of markers of African swine fever virus and anti-African swine fever virus antibodies in different samples such as oral fluids and meat juice. Work is also being done on African swine fever virus detection using a portable detection device.
Why the research is important: “African swine fever presents a serious and ongoing threat to the swine industry both in the United States and around the world, particularly with its recent spread through Eastern Europe and into China,” Richt said. “It is imperative to the safety of our food supply and to our economic health that we pursue research into a solution to this important threat.”
More and

Raymond “Bob” Rowland

Name: Raymond “Bob” Rowland, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine
Areas of study related to African swine fever: Novel approaches for detection and control, capacity building and training, outreach to stakeholder communities.
Recent African swine fever-related research: Publication in PLOS ONE; publication in Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation; publication in Nature’s Scientific Reports; publication in Virology
Description of the research: Rowland’s lab has received support from the State of Kansas National Bio and Agro-defense Facility Fund and was the first to work with African swine fever at the Biosecurity Research Institute. His research focuses on developing tools to prevent the entry of the virus into the U.S. He has developed an assay that rapidly and accurately detects African swine fever infection in blood, feces and oral fluid samples. These assays will be important for routine surveillance of commercial pig herds and feral pigs. Rowland is collaborating with Ying Fang, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, and the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory to characterize antibodies that can improve the accuracy of existing African swine fever assays.
The Rowland lab is working with Fang and Waithaka Mwangi,associate professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, to explore vaccine development by preparing vector libraries to find a combination of antigens and antigen-delivery platforms that can deliver protective immunity. Rowland also is collaborating with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Australian Animal Health Laboratory to identify gene pathways associated with disease and the recovery of pigs from infection.
Why the research is important: “There is no single ‘magic bullet’ solution for the prevention of African swine fever,” Rowland said. “As a global problem, preventing and controlling African swine fever virus require new technologies and new knowledge along with the continuous fine-tuning of the existing tools. The greatest gap in knowledge addressed by this research is to better understand African swine fever virus immunity in pigs. Filling this gap opens the door to improved disease surveillance methods, pigs with improved response to vaccination, and vaccines that are safe, cost-effective and protective.”
More information:

Adrian Self

Name: Adrian Self, prospect director with the university’s National Agricultural Biosecurity Center.
Areas of study related to African swine fever: Risk analysis.
Recent African swine fever-related research: Publication in PLOS ONE; publication in Transboundary and Emerging Diseases; publication in BioResearch Open Access
Description of the research: The university’s National Agricultural Biosecurity Center is studying African swine fever through its NBAF Transition Transboundary Animal Disease risk analysis project. The project is developing timely and accurate qualitative and quantitative risk analysis for diseases, such as African swine fever, that will be studied at NBAF. The project involves a university team of epidemiologists and student researchers as well as collaborators in engineering, veterinary medicine, social science and agricultural communications. The team is using rural communities in Kansas as models to develop contacts and communication methods that helps distribute accurate information in a timely manner.
Why the research is important: “It is critical to be able to quickly and accurately identify African swine fever to prevent its further spread,” Self said. “We want to stop this virus from reaching the U.S. and it is crucial to understand the risks and develop a communication infrastructure now, especially with the communities and with the stakeholders who could be most affected by the spread of this devastating virus.”
More information:

Jishu Shi

Name: Jishu Shi, professor of vaccine immunology in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Areas of study related to African swine fever: Virus detection, vaccine development and transmission.
Recent African swine fever-related research: Publication in the Journal of Virological Methods
Description of the research: Shi’s lab studies African swine fever virus detection, vaccine development and transmission between feral and domestic pigs. Shi has worked with Jianfa Bai, director of molecular research and development at the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and other collaborators to develop and validate a multiplex polymerase chain reaction that can simultaneously detect African swine fever virus, classical swine fever virus, and foot-and-mouth disease virus in one sample. Shi’s lab currently is developing novel technologies that can be used to develop African swine fever vaccines. After the recent outbreak in China, Shi is establishing new collaborations to study the transmission of the virus between wild and domestic pigs.
Why the research is important: “The most effective defense against foreign animal diseases such as African swine fever, classical swine fever, and foot-and-mouth disease is to keep them outside the U.S.,” Shi said. “That is why we have developed fast and sensitive virus detection methods such as the multiplex polymerase chain reaction panel for African swine fever virus, classical swine fever virus and foot-and-mouth disease virus. We are developing new technologies that can be used to create an efficacious African swine fever vaccine. Before an efficacious vaccine is available, we have to understand and develop novel strategies to control the disease spillover between wild and domestic pig populations.”
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