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K-State Today

May 21, 2012

Rewarding innovation: How water buffalo, seed funding may help researcher fight disease in dairy cattle

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

A Kansas State University professor is getting support for his research to develop a novel class of natural antibiotics for the treatment of mastitis in dairy cattle.

Tonatiuh Melgarejo, an associate professor in human nutrition in the university's College of Human Ecology, has been awarded $250,000 from the Center for Animal Health Innovation's Proof-of-Concept seed funding program. As principal investigator, Melgarejo also will receive guidance from the center's animal health industry-led board of directors to help bring the technology to market.

The product in development is a natural antimicrobial peptide derived from water buffalo with a broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity. Water buffalo are known for their inherent resistance to infectious diseases. The incidence of mastitis is low in this species, as their typical environment entails a heavy microbial load, according to Melgarejo, who is a doctor of veterinary medicine and a Ph.D.

The identification of novel ways to effectively treat mastitis is essential to alleviate the financial burden of this disease in dairy cattle, which accounts for a $2 billion annual loss in the U.S. alone. The dairy industry indicates that there are 9.5 million dairy cattle in the U.S. and that 10 to 35 percent of cattle are affected by mastitis. The eventual product would not necessitate any milk-withholding period posttreatment.

"Sourcing early-stage technologies from academic institutions is an important aspect of pipeline development for animal health companies," says Jeffrey O. Boily, president and CEO of the Center for Animal Health Innovation, "and we are excited to provide this seed funding to Dr. Melgarejo and his team to assist them in developing this exciting and innovative antibiotic."

"Tona Melgarejo's research on antimicrobial peptides and their potential clinical use as novel natural antibiotics has taken him all over the world to work with animals such as lions, stingrays, and hyenas," said Virginia Moxley, dean of the College of Human Ecology. "This is an important and exciting step for Dr. Melgarejo and his team. He not only excels in the laboratory but also in the classroom where he makes applied science come alive for our students. It's also the type of innovative research that will help Kansas State University become a top 50 public research university by 2025."

The mission of the Center for Animal Health Innovation, which is based at Kansas State University Olathe, is to connect innovation to industry with the express goal of producing breakthrough products and services that can have a major impact on the animal health industry.

The center's Proof-of-Concept seed funding supports academic researchers, entrepreneurs and small companies developing early-stage animal health technologies with high commercial potential. Since a great idea and funding are often not enough to ensure success, the Proof of Concept seed funding offers support that includes animal health industry experts, scientists and entrepreneurs who are working together to help these promising technologies have a meaningful impact in the market. The key goal of the program is to retire the business risk in these early-stage projects, thereby increasing their attractiveness to follow-on investment by established animal health companies and professional investors.