University of Calgary

Exploring immunity in pigs

UToday HomeDecember 4, 2012

Faculty of Veterinary Medicine researcher Markus Czub. / Photo: Ken BendiktsenMarkus Czub and his research group in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine are exploring different aspects of swine viruses, work that has been presented internationally. Photo by Ken BendiktsenResearchers at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine are working with Alberta swine veterinarians to explore how pigs’ immune systems respond to two viruses. These viruses are estimated to cost the pork industry in North America alone well over $1 billion a year.

Porcine circovirus-associated diseases (PCVAD) and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) have emerged around the world in the last 20 years.

Markus Czub, professor of virology and emerging infectious diseases, and his research group are exploring different aspects of the viruses, work that has been presented at recent international meetings.

Rupali Walia, a postdoctoral fellow and Aaron Hawkes, a graduate student presented their work into porcine circovirus pathogenesis at the International Pig Veterinary Society Congress in South Korea and the American Society for Virology Meeting in the U.S.

One of the major mechanisms of PCVAD is immunosuppression of the host. “Cells of the immune system die in massive numbers during the infection and Walia looked at a specific viral protein involved in killing host cells,” says Czub.

Hawkes is “the first one to show that another viral protein of the porcine circovirus is actually produced and recognized by the pig’s immune system. We never knew whether that was the case, but he has now data to prove that,” says Czub.

Putting these two discoveries together will facilitate understanding of how porcine circovirus manipulates the immune system of its host.

Regula Waeckerlin and Michael Eschbaumer, both veterinary virologists, are involved in developing vaccines against PRRSV.

“They employ modern technologies like sequence analysis and comparison computer modelling of proteins with the intent to identify tiny components that could serve as components of future vaccines,” says Czub.

Waeckerlin and Eschbaumer are also working with Alberta-based biotechnology company Aquila Diagnostic Systems Inc. to develop equipment and procedures for on-farm real-time molecular diagnostics.

“We are developing a hand held machine which can be used on the farm to test blood or saliva and allow us to identify infected herds or shipments of animals before they enter a clean farm,” says Czub.

He says combating both viruses will remain very difficult and take considerable time and effort.