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National Avian Flu Research Project Receives New $5 Million

As a human avian influenza pandemic remains a very real global threat, the University of Maryland-based Prevention and Control of Avian Influenza Coordinated Agricultural Project (AICAP) has been re-funded with a second five million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

AICAP, a multi-institutional research and education consortium focused on avian influenza, was launched with its first USDA grant in 2005. AICAP program director Daniel R. Perez, a University of Maryland associate professor and virologist, said “This new USDA grant will be critical to continue the groundbreaking research, education, outreach and development programs that we have established in the past three years.

“We have gained new insights into the molecular basis of avian influenza, and we have developed an important education component on the risks of avian influenza to birds and humans. But there is much more to be done, in all areas of avian influenza research,” said Perez.

Risks to Food Source, Humans
Since 2005, more than 20 AICAP researchers from around the country have collaborated to study the disease that annually results in millions of dollars in losses of commercial poultry, the most important source of meat protein in many countries around the world.

Avian influenza is also a human killer, with a number of recent deaths in Asia among people who have had direct contact with contaminated birds. As new genetic mutations of the virus continue to spread to Europe and Africa, public health officials remain concerned that a strain of avian influenza could mutate into a form that could be transmitted from human to human, kicking off a deadly influenza pandemic.


AICAP goals include epidemiology, basic research, diagnostics, vaccines, and education. Since 2005, AICAP researchers and educators have:

* Assembled the first continent-wide network to study the ecological and biological characteristics of avian influenza viruses isolated from wild birds;

* Integrated research and education into a unique program available to a range of poultry producers;

* Shown that quail can change and expand the host range of avian influenza viruses; found that quail respiratory and intestinal tracts have human-like sialic acid receptors that could partially explain the emergence of avian influenza strains with the capacity to infect humans;

* Developed a comprehensive program to train producers and veterinarians on depopulation and composting of flocks with avian influenza; the training program has been delivered in 33 states and in Canada and Brazil;

* Developed a testing component for rapid diagnosis of avian influenza in birds;

* Developed promising vaccines for mass immunization of birds.

“In the next three years, we will be able to consolidate our research and education structures conducive of more integrated projects or programs that will benefit the poultry industry and contribute to the prevention of pandemic influenza,” Perez said.

Research Consortium
The institutions and researchers participating in AICAP are: Virginia Tech, Elankumaran Subbiah; Auburn University,Haroldo Toro; University of California-Davis, Carol Cardona; University of Delaware, Eric Benson and Jack Gelb; University of Georgia, Egbert Mundt, Maricarmen Garcia and Mark Jackwood; USDA-ARS-Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, David Suarez and Erica Spackman; Ohio State University, Richard Slemons, Mo Saif and Chang Won Lee; Oregon State University, Bruce Geller; Texas A&M University, Blanca Lupiani and Sanjay Reddy; Western University Health Sciences, Ellen Collisson; University of Maryland, College Park, Daniel Perez, Siba Samal, Alicia Solorzano and Nathaniel Tablante.

Also instrumental for the success of the AICAP is the participation of members of the Scientific Advisory Board: David Swayne, USDA-ARS; Jeffrey Taubenberger, NAID-Intramural branch; Richard Webby, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Diane Hulse-Post, CEIRS-NIAID-NIH, Todd Davis, Influenza Division, CDC; Dennis Senne, NVSL-USDA; Seth Swafford, APHIS-Wildlife-USDA; Michael Perdue, HHS; Ron Fouchier, Erasmus Medical Center, The Netherlands; Chuck Hofacre, American Association of Avian Pathologists; Ronald Ritter and Elizabeth Krushinskie, Poultry Industry; Gavin MacGregor-Skinner, USAID.

Ellen Ternes | newswise
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