A University of Minnesota (UM) scientist is working to improve vaccine options for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) that can affect poultry (such as chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, geese, and guinea fowl) and wild birds (especially waterfowl). Through her National Institute of Food and Agriculture-funded research project, Dr. Yuying Liang, with the UM College of Veterinary Medicine, developed eight vaccine candidates against highly pathogenic H5 and H7 avian influenza viruses.
Research has shown that avian influenzas can mutate rapidly, and Liang said that this is a challenge to creating effective vaccines. “We do not know what strain or mutation of HPAI will appear or when it will appear,” Liang said. “Existing vaccines are unlikely to be effective in new outbreaks.”
The key to reducing the spread of an HPAI outbreak is to have a targeted vaccine ready to deploy. “Our approach uses a live viral vector that would cause a strong and broadly protective immune response both in antibodies and T-cells,” she said. “Both are critical in creating a robust immune response.”
Free viruses are ready to attack new cells. Antibodies can bind to these free viruses, blocking them from infecting new cells. Once viruses infect cells, antibodies cannot reach them. T-cells are needed to recognize and kill these virus-infected cells.
The eight vaccine candidates are currently being tested on mice. Next research phase is to evaluate efficacy in a live animal. Supply chain issues caused by the pandemic slowed research progress. UM has patented and licensed Liang’s viral vector.
“We were fortunate to receive NIFA funding to jump start our research,” Liang said. “This work has great potential for advances in both animal and human health.”
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service spearheads surveillance and education efforts on HPAI, while Agricultural Research Service scientists are researching effective ways to control the disease.