Network advances research on infectious animal diseases
Infectious animal diseases represent a serious threat to farm animals as well as to humans' public health. An EU-funded project is building a transnational network of bio-containment research facilities, industry partners and international organisations that allows for safe research on high-risk pathogens causing highly contagious animal diseases.
© JackF #141017599, source: stock.adobe.com 2019
The rapid spread of diseases in livestock requires effective transnational action to counter threats to animal and public health. In particular, improved cooperation is needed between academics, industry experts, health professionals and policy-makers, to ensure effective responses to the potentially devasting impacts of emerging animal diseases.
The EU-funded infrastructure project VETBIONET is consolidating a network of high-containment research facilities, academic institutes, international organisations and industry partners to advance research and technological developments on infectious livestock diseases. These include both epizootic diseases that cause epidemics in animals and zoonotic diseases present in animals but which are also infectious for humans.
VETBIONET seeks to strengthen European capacity and competence to meet the challenges of emerging infectious diseases by reinforcing the network of European BSL3 (Biosafety Level 3) infrastructures dedicated to livestock that was first created by the preceding project NADIR, says Frédéric Lantier of INRA in France who coordinates the project together with Sascha Trapp from the same institute.
Transnational access and joint research
The multidisciplinary project has made significant progress in accelerating technological developments for diagnostics, prevention and control of epizootic and zoonotic animal diseases. It is also helping advance cutting-edge analytical, telemetric and bio-imaging techniques in this field, from whole body scale to cell level.
The project is structured around three types of activities: transnational access (TNA), networking activities and joint research activities (JRAs).
TNA provides free-of-charge access to the BSL3 facilities, technical resources and sample collections of VETBIONET consortium members, via an ongoing research call process and through a dedicated web portal. The JRAs include programmes optimising the modelling of epizootic and zoonotic diseases in animals, based on in vitro cell, tissue and organ cultures.
Among the results achieved so far on the development and optimisation of livestock infection models, three disease models have been finalised now. These involve the standardisation of infection trials with peste-des-petits-ruminants (ovine rinderpest) virus in sheep, poultry infection trials with both avian influenza virus and with Salmonella, and the development of trout and carp disease models for the study of viral fish diseases.
To support its integrated activities, VETBIONET has developed accredited training courses with the Federation of European Laboratory Animal Science Associations and other organisations. The first training school took place in January 2019.
The project is harmonising protocols and best practices, establishing guidelines to help upgrade high-containment facilities and promoting the use of global standards in all European BSL3 facilities.
A particular focus is on animal welfare and alternatives to animal experimentation. To this end, the project is refining and improving the conditions under which animals are kept, using advanced automated imaging tools to optimally monitor animal behaviour, and applying improved livestock infection models such as alternative in vitro tests with new specialised cell lines and tissue cultures that reduce the use of live animal testing.
The rapid transboundary spread of emerging infectious diseases necessitates scientific cooperation on an international and multidisciplinary level, says Lantier. However, the number of high-containment animal experimental facilities in Europe is limited due to the fact that their construction and maintenance necessitates tremendous public funding efforts. Hence, there is a public interest to promote and facilitate EU-wide access to these existing facilities, rather than to building ever more infrastructures like this across Europe.
The VETBIONET consortium, coordinated by INRA, assembles 30 partners from 14 countries. It is producing a sustainability plan to extend access to its services in the long term. This will further strengthen Europes capacity to meet the challenges of emerging infectious animal diseases.