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PHTweb Sellers Toolbox 324773727

Tooling up for better disease protection through applied research

Vaccines are powerful, widely used tools for managing poultry diseases. But over time, variant viruses emerge that circumvent disease protection by some commercial vaccines. Predominant strains also shift over time. How can the industry keep pace?

“Regardless of whether a disease is the result of a new variant or perhaps an unknown etiology, the need for solutions is absolute,” said Holly Sellers, PhD, with the Poultry Diagnostic and Research Center, University of Georgia.

Teamwork essential

Speaking at the North Central Avian Disease Conference earlier this year, Sellers said the first consideration for any research project is to determine the experts needed for the effort to be successful. For poultry diseases, this team must include clinicians, diagnosticians and researchers.

“Collectively, they work together to identify the problem and determine the questions that need to be answered, then prioritize the work to be performed,” she explained. “Each member of the team brings their expertise to the project, and the collective discussions provide a productive framework for the project.”

It’s also important to identify the research and address these questions:

  • What does the industry need to know to help mitigate, control and/or eradicate the disease?
  • Is it infectious?
  • Is there a reproducible challenge model?
  • Is there a known etiology?
  • Are there diagnostic tests?
  • Are reagents available to study the disease?
  • Are there commercial vaccines, and if so, do they provide protection, cross-protection, partial protection or no protection at all?

Diagnostic tools

“There are many diagnostic tools available to quickly and accurately detect pathogens; however, an emerging disease isn’t always controlled by mere detection of a pathogen,” Sellers said. “Advances in molecular technology and sequencing capacities have increased significantly, while costs have decreased.”

For example, in the case of emerging-variant infectious bronchitis viruses (IBV), Sellers said current tools allow identification of variants by sequencing the S1 subunit.

“Many diagnostic tests are shifting to molecular detection methods, so once the sequence is known, then real-time RT-PCR [reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction] primers and probes can be developed for rapid detection and identification of the variant from clinical samples.”

“Isolation of the virus is also important to determine antigenic relatedness to other IBV serotypes, for example,” she added.

For other emerging diseases, especially enteric viral diseases, Sellers said the process is more difficult and often requires development of new reagents to study the disease.

“Determining what tools are needed for further understanding is a critical step in any research project,” she stressed.

Important last step: Secure funding

Several avenues are available for funding applied poultry research, Sellers said.

“For disease events that are limited (in geographic region or restricted to certain complexes), poultry companies can often support projects with limited objectives,” she explained. “Often, these projects cover more extensive diagnostic testing to rule pathogens in or out.”

Sellers noted that a list of research priorities is published by the American Association of Avian Pathologists and is very useful in identifying areas of importance, as well as for justification of funding to external grant organizations.

In addition, the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association funds research, either through the annual research funding cycles or through the Board Research Initiative. Various, larger, multi-disciplinary grants can be obtained through USDA as well.

“The industry benefits from good communication between academic, production and pharmaceutical companies, and coordination of research funding can benefit from bringing all invested parties to the table to discuss the problem and prioritize objectives,” Sellers said.

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Vaccines are powerful, widely used tools for managing poultry diseases. But over time, variant viruses emerge that circumvent protection by some commercial vaccines. Predominant strains also shift over time. How can the industry keep pace?

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Posted on September 27, 2022

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