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K-State Today

December 8, 2017

Veterinary researcher receives USDA-NIFA grant for vaccine development against post-weaning diarrhea in pigs

By Joe Montgomery

Weiping Zhang

Can one size fit all? That's the challenge being addressed by Weiping Zhang, professor of microbiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University.

A new grant from the U.S. Department of Agricultures's National Institute of Food and Agriculture for $460,000 will enable Zhang to apply this approach as a cost-effective and efficient solution for controlling post-weaning diarrhea, or PWD, in swine. The research may help control strains caused by enterotoxigenic E. coli, or ETEC.

"Vaccination is probably the most practical and effective method to control diseases for swine producers, but no effective PWD vaccines have been developed due to technical challenges at inducing broad immunity against the different strains of diarrhea caused by enterotoxigenic E. coli," Zhang said. "We propose to innovatively produce multiepitope fusion antigen and a live vaccine inducing broadly protective local mucosal immunity, and then, unambiguously assess efficacy of this vaccine in piglet challenge studies. With strongly supportive data from preliminary studies, in conjugation with years of combined experience of two investigators in ETEC research and vaccine development, we believe our proposed research will be completed."

Zhang added that an effective post-weaning diarrhea vaccine would save hundreds of millions of dollars each year for U.S. swine producers, while also reducing antibiotic use. Innovation applied in this study could potentially be applied toward vaccine development against other diseases.

In 2016, Zhang was awarded a $2.1 million National Institutes of Health R01 grant for early vaccine research. The NIH has awarded two additional grants to Zhang in the last four years to develop vaccines against E. coli diarrhea.

"Diarrhea continues to be a leading cause of death in children under five years of age, and enterotoxigenic E. coli is the most common bacterial cause of children's diarrhea," Zhang said. "Currently, there are no available vaccines against ETEC-associated diarrhea. Whole-cell vaccine candidates have been under development, but require further improvements because they provide inadequate protection and produce unwanted adverse effects."

"Effective vaccines for ETEC have proved to be very challenging," said Frank Blecha, associate dean for research in the veterinary college. "Dr. Zhang's vaccine development strategy for ETEC using multiepitope fusion antigens holds great promise for a vaccine that will limit diarrheal deaths in animals, and it may also have relevance to human health too."

This research, "A Broadly Protective Vaccine Against Porcine Post-Weaning Diarrhea (PWD)," will be supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant No. 2017-67015-26632 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.