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K-State Today

December 7, 2017



Veterinary immunologist captures USDA-NIFA grant to develop upgradeable cattle vaccine

By Joe Montgomery

Waithaka Mwangi

Like a cellphone user might download the latest updates for an app, Waithaka Mwangi sees a possibility that cattle vaccines can be updated to protect against the most recent strains of disease-causing viruses.

Mwangi's theory received a favorable review from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, or NIFA, resulting in a $495,000 grant for the associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine. In October, NIFA announced a list of 39 projects nationwide to receive funding through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative program. The College of Veterinary Medicine was selected to receive more than $1.7 million in funding awards, including Mwangi's project, "Improved Vaccine Platforms for Safe and Effective Control of Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV)."

"We are addressing a critical need for improved broadly protective BVDV vaccines that are free of negative effects and are affordable," Mwangi said. "The expected outcome will thereby increase productivity and profitability of U.S. cattle industry. Just as importantly, the technology will allow rapid vaccine upgrade to incorporate protective components from new BVDV strains that will emerge in future."

According to USDA statistics and others, the cattle industry accounts for roughly 40 percent of the total market value of U.S. agriculture. Because infections with BVDV represent a major economic loss, BVDV is categorized as a "High Priority Disease" of economic importance to U.S. animal agriculture, which Mwangi said creates a need for developing better vaccines.

"We have developed a new vaccine formulation that consists of several protective components from different BVDV strains," Mwangi said. "These components were selected using the latest scientific approaches that utilized cumulative knowledge generated so far from BVDV vaccine development studies."

Mwangi's lab will test whether immunization of cattle with this new vaccine will confer protection against a majority of BVDV strains present in America.

"We expect that this new vaccine will be safe, affordable and capable of inducing protection against multiple BVDV strains," Mwangi said. "These expected outcomes will reduce losses caused by BVDV and thereby contribute to an increase in the efficiency of beef and dairy animal production systems."

This research will be supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant No. 2017-67015-26802 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.