Husker researchers on cusp of swine industry protection

Husker researchers on cusp of swine industry protection

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developing vaccine in lab
Researchers Hiep Vu and Haiyan Sun are working to develop a broad coverage PRRSV vaccine to help sustainable pork production.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln are leading research to help producers across the globe fight a devastating swine virus.

Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) is a viral pathogen that causes abortion when infecting pregnant sows and pneumonia in young pigs. Additionally, the virus can suppress the pig's immune system, leading to enhanced susceptibility of pigs to other infectious diseases. When a pig contracts the virus, not only does the producer lose the production of that pig, but he or she also has to spend money treating nearby pigs and cleaning the facility. In the United States, PRRSV costs the swine industry over $640 million per year.

I'm hopeful that the product we're able to develop here in the lab can one day be used to help my parents and pork producers everywhere. Hiep Vu

Fernando Osorio and Hiep Vu, researchers in the Nebraska Center for Virology, are focused on the development of a universal or broadly protective vaccine that could protect against multiple, if not all of the variants of the virus circulating in the field.

"The challenge to make an effective vaccine is that the virus can mutate, or change very fast. This leads to the co-circulation of many variant forms of the virus in the swine herd," said Osorio. Consequently, the currently available vaccines fail to protect pigs against all forms of the virus in the field.

The researchers have employed an innovative approach in which they combined bioinformatics and molecular techniques to generate a fully synthetic PRRSV strain. Data produced by the group demonstrate that this synthetic PRRSV strain shows tremendous promise in the possibility of developing a live-attenuated vaccine for clinical applications.

Vu grew up on his parent's pork production farm in Vietnam. He has seen firsthand the deadly consequences of PRRSV, which is why he came to the university as a master's student in 2007 to work on the PRRSV vaccine. After completing his master's, doctorate and post-doctoral research with Osorio, Vu is now an assistant professor of animal science.

"I'm hopeful that the product we're able to develop here in the lab can one day be used to help my parents and pork producers everywhere," said Vu.

swine in penAs the project progresses, the researchers believe partners like NUtech Ventures will be critical in bringing their discoveries to industry. NUtech facilitates the commercialization and practical use of innovations generated through research at the university. The PRRSV team is a prior winner of NUtech's Breakthrough Innovation of the Year award.

Along with Vu and Osorio, researchers Asit Pattnaik and Fangrui Ma also contribute to this project, along with post-doctoral research associate Haiyan Sun. The research is conducted at the Nebraska Center for Virology, which combines the expertise of Nebraska's leading biomedical research institutions — the University of Nebraska– Lincoln, University of Nebraska Medical Center and Creighton University — to focus on important viral diseases of humans, plants and animals.