Veterinary researcher receives prestigious grant to study swine disease

August 18th, 2011
Scott Kenney, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology at Virginia Tech, received a USDA grant to study how the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus causes reproductive failure in sows and respiratory diseases in piglets. Credit: Virginia Tech Photo
A researcher in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine has received a prestigious U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) postdoctoral fellowship grant to investigate the molecular mechanisms of pathogenesis behind porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus.

Scott Kenney, postdoctoral associate in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology in the vet college, received the two-year, $130,000 grant from the USDA to study how the virus causes reproductive failure in sows and respiratory diseases in piglets.

"The virus infects pigs at early ages and has a major economic impact on the swine industry," said Kenney, who explained that the disease has increased the cost of raising a pig by up to an estimated $18 per head. "Not only does the virus cause the industry to invest more money into raising pigs, but it also reduces the number of piglets from the onset."

Dr. X.J. Meng, mentor of this fellowship grant and a professor of biomedical sciences and pathobiology who has studied the disease since the early 1990s, added that porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome is arguably the most economically important global disease for the swine industry. He and Kenney hope to better understand how the virus causes the disease and design better preventive measures.

Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome first appeared in 1987. By 1991, researchers had not only discovered that an RNA virus caused the disease but also realized that the virus infecting pigs in the United States was a variant strain of the same virus causing similar symptoms in Europe. In recent years, the virus has caused high fever diseases in pigs in China, leading to high mortality rates and significant economic losses.

"Today, vaccines against porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus are being used worldwide," Meng said. "If the virus infecting a swine herd is genetically similar to the vaccine virus, then the vaccine performs well. Unfortunately, many strains of virus infecting pigs today are genetically different from the one used to create the vaccines. Therefore, we need to develop a better and more efficacious vaccine against this virus."

Although porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus has similarities to the Coronaviridae family of RNA viruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS, it cannot spread from animals to humans. Kenney, however, believes that his research on virus-host interactions will have future implications on human health research.

The grant is part of a USDA postdoctoral fellowship that, according to the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Fellowships Grant Program, is designed to "train and develop the next generation of agricultural, forestry, and food scientists through fellowships to outstanding postdoctoral students and to strongly support the intellectual talent needed to meet the challenges facing the nation's agriculture and food systems."

Kenney, who earned his Ph.D. in molecular virology from the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine and recently worked in Meng's lab on a study of hepatitis E virus pathogenesis, is pursuing an academic career in molecular virology and translational medicine.

Meng's lab studies the molecular mechanisms of viral replication and pathogenesis and develops vaccines against emerging, reemerging, and zoonotic viral diseases. Earlier this year, the lab received a $499,000 grant from the USDA and another $594,000 grant from an animal health company to study porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus. In 2006, the lab invented the first USDA fully licensed vaccine against post-weaning multi-systemic wasting syndrome in pigs, which is now commercially available worldwide.

Provided by Virginia Tech

This Phys.org Science News Wire page contains a press release issued by an organization mentioned above and is provided to you “as is” with little or no review from Phys.Org staff.

More news stories

Ancient clay seals may shed light on biblical era

Impressions from ancient clay seals found at a small site in Israel east of Gaza are signs of government in an area thought to be entirely rural during the 10th century B.C., says Mississippi State University archaeologist ...

Cadillac CT6 will get streaming video mirror

Cadillac said Thursday it will add high resolution streaming video to the function of a rearview mirror, so that the driver's vision and safety can be enhanced. The technology will debut on the 2016 Cadillac ...

Off-world manufacturing is a go with space printer

On Friday, the BBC reported on a NASA email exchange with a space station which involved astronauts on the International Space Station using their 3-D printer to make a wrench from instructions sent up in ...

Why the Sony hack isn't big news in Japan

Japan's biggest newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, featured a story about Sony Corp. on its website Friday. It wasn't about hacking. It was about the company's struggling tablet business.

Hopes, fears, doubts surround Cuba's oil future

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

Recorded Ebola deaths top 7,000

The worst Ebola outbreak on record has now killed more than 7,000 people, with many of the latest deaths reported in Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization said as United Nations Secretary-General Ban ...