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K-State Today

September 23, 2020

Graduate student awarded NBAF Scientist Training Program fellowship

Submitted by Office of the Vice President for Research

Konner Cool, doctoral student in pathobiology, has been awarded a National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility Scientist Training Program, or NSTP, Ph.D. fellowship. This fellowship will last four years and focuses on building the necessary technical and subject matter expertise to support the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, or FADDL, at the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, known as NBAF, in Manhattan.

"K-State's partnership with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for training personnel to work in NBAF offers a fabulous opportunity for our students," said Beth Montelone, associate vice president for research.

Cool says he is excited to use this fellowship to focus on the development of animal models for COVID-19 and developing and validating SARS-CoV-2 specific diagnostic test systems for livestock and companion animals. This will include molecular test systems for detection of viral RNA, serological test systems for detection of virus-specific antibodies, and test systems for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 antigen.

"Ultimately, the goal is to create highly sensitive and specific assays that can be translated into field-deployable or point-of-care tools for humans, veterinarians and pet owners," Cool said.

His work at the Biosecurity Research Institute, or BRI, with high-consequence, emerging and zoonotic infectious diseases, such as SARS-CoV-2, allows the team to play a role in timely responses to emerging threats and developing impactful tools that can be translated into the field within the U.S. and internationally.

"This award will not only assist Konner with his educational and living expenses but will provide him excellent opportunities to enhance his research skills and knowledge, and prepare him for an exciting career in Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at NBAF," said Carol Shanklin, dean of the Graduate School and professor of food, nutrition, dietetics and health.

Cool's previous work experience with foreign animal disease research and focus on serological and molecular diagnostics and helped to qualify him for this fellowship.

"We are excited for Konner and his mentor, Dr. Richt, on his selection for the NSTP fellowship," said Frank Blecha, university distinguished professor and associate dean for research in the College of Veterinary Medicine. "He joins seven other NSTP fellows in the college in the preeminent training program in the nation for future foreign animal disease scientists. Not only does the NSTP fellowship relieve the financial burden of graduate school and in some cases veterinary school, but it also brings great prestige to K-State and the College of Veterinary Medicine. Importantly, the program generates homegrown colleagues at NBAF, which will facilitate collaborative interactions long into the future."

"I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity and appreciate all of the support from leadership at K-State and guidance provided by my mentors and co-workers," Cool said. "Having both the BRI and NBAF as part of our community provides so many excellent opportunities for those interested in pursuing careers in foreign animal and zoonotic disease research."