UVM gets $2.5M to study animal diseases

Researchers at UVM are looking at diseases in the animal world and trying to determine if some changes are needed to prevent the spread.
Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 8:18 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Researchers at the University of Vermont are looking at diseases in the animal world and trying to determine if some changes are needed to prevent the spread.

UVM just secured a $2.5 million grant to research different illnesses. The goals are to learn how to prevent infection, how to monitor spread and predict how producers will react.

“We need to revamp our effort toward biosecurity adoption,” said Richmond Silvanus Baye, a first-year Ph.D. student.

He says you don’t have to look far to find the far-reaching impacts of infectious diseases in animals.

“I’m coming in from the economics lens,” Silvanus Baye said.

Silvanus Baye works in the sustainable development program at UVM. He uses COVID-19, avian influenza and African swine fever as examples of what animal diseases can do, not only to a herd or a farmer but to the economy as well.

“When the pandemic happened, a lot of countries experienced economic meltdown,” said Silvanus Baye.

An interdisciplinary team at UVM is going even deeper.

“Develop fundamental scientific understanding and causes and consequences of infectious diseases,” said Asim Zia, a professor of public policy and computer science at UVM.

Zia says the $2.5 million recently received from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture can go a long way and it’s time-sensitive.

“There is a specific urgency to this work because we want to be ahead of this work before this disease faces inwards,” Zia said.

This project is specifically focused on African swine fever and foot and mouth disease in cattle. It’s focused on how farmers can improve and potential policy shifts to bolster biosecurity. But research is also being done on predicting how disease spreads and how producers react to infection.

“Through research, through interviews, through complex supply chain data sets,” said Zia.

They also can use virtual reality models, or “games,” to simulate disease spread and to test policy implementation.

“Those would help us understand what policy might be better before we introduce them to the real world,” said Zia.

The work is interdisciplinary, combining computer science, animal health, agriculture and economics. Silvanus Baye says while the project is in the early phases, he sees the payout at the end as massive.

“It sort of makes this important that we invest in biosecurity so that we would be able to prevent an outbreak of a disease that would have rippling effects on lives, economies, and the global food chain as well,” he said.

This study will have a focus on the national level but the researchers say they hope they will be able to have an impact beyond U.S. borders as well.

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