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K-State Today

April 24, 2023

Scientist training program at Biosecurity Research Institute culminates in trio of research publications

Submitted by Joe Montgomery

A collaborative training program at Kansas State University's Biosecurity Research Institute has produced tangible results.

"The BRI has been cooperating for a few years now with the USDA's Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service and the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility on a program called the NBAF Scientist Training Program, or NSTP," said Stephen Higgs, university distinguished professor and director of the BRI. "The NSTP has supported several K-State student researchers during their graduate studies. Many of the research projects conducted by K-State NSTP Fellows have taken place at the BRI and have focused on NBAF priority diseases such as African swine fever, classical swine fever, Japanese encephalitis and Rift Valley fever."

Higgs said one of these NSTP Fellowship projects has resulted in three peer-reviewed publications: "Immunogenicity of a candidate live attenuated vaccine for Rift Valley fever virus with a two-segmented genome" and "Comparison of immunogenicity between a candidate live attenuated vaccine and an inactivated vaccine for Cache Valley virus" were both published in the journal Viral Immunology, and "Replication kinetics of a candidate live-attenuated vaccine for Cache Valley virus in Aedes albopictus" was published in the journal Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases. The research for these articles was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and an award from the State of Kansas NBAF transition fund focused on candidate vaccine development and testing.

The primary author is Victoria Ayers, a former NSTP Fellow who received her doctorate from K-State in August 2022 under the mentorship of Dana Vanlandingham, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Higgs said that Ayers has now joined the NBAF team, further building upon the BRI's relationship with the USDA.

"Victoria was preceded by Laura Constance, who was mentored by Megan Niederwerder and Bob Rowland, and Christian Young, who was mentored by Dana Vanlandingham," Higgs said. "Research conducted at the BRI by current K-State NSTP Fellows includes Konner Cool, mentored by Juergen Richt, and Michelle Zajac and Jayden McCall, who are both mentored by Waithaka Mwangi."

In addition to the highly successful NSTP program, K-State is also home to a related program called the USDA APHIS NBAF Laboratorian Training Program. 

"This program is held in the summer months at the BRI and is focused on training junior, senior, and recently graduated Bachelor of Science-level researchers to safely work in a high containment environment," Higgs said. "With the operation phase of NBAF now well underway, and preparations to initiate research and diagnostic capabilities moving forward, we greatly appreciate funding from the USDA for these training programs and other activities that enable the BRI to play our part in the future success of the NBAF mission."

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