Farm Talk

Ag News from Around the Country

March 1, 2011

Former K-State professor to lead USDA research unit

Parsons, Kansas — Several unpacked boxes sit in the corners of D. Scott McVey's office. But McVey is hard at work. He's orchestrating a series of high-profile animal virus research projects that extend from Manhattan, Kansas, to New York and around the world.

McVey, a former K-State faculty member, came back to Manhattan to join the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Arthropod-Borne Animal Disease Research Unit, or ABADRU, as supervisory veterinary medical officer. His duties include research and overseeing many of the unit's administrative functions, including budgetary matters, meeting USDA objectives and hiring new staff, because the unit is currently operating at half capacity.

"It's a pretty exciting time," said McVey, who joined the unit January 3. "We're in this prime biological corridor with a lot of strong collaboration at our fingertips and a unique opportunity to do some high-profile vaccine work."

The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, is slated to open in 2018 in Manhattan to replace New York's aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which is a major BSL-3 animal disease research facility.

On the heels of that announcement, ABADRU was relocated here from Laramie, Wyoming, in July 2010. Its scientists work on diseases and animal viruses carried by insects, primarily biting midges and mosquitoes. The viruses are quarantined in the unit's cell culture facility for examination and future reference. ABADRU's ultimate goals are to understand the pathogenesis of the diseases, to develop better diagnostic tools in the field and to create a vaccine for each disease.

"Vaccinology—developing and testing vaccines—is one area we want to continue strengthening in our unit. And from a vaccine standpoint, the diseases we're working with are particularly challenging," McVey said.

He should know. After serving as a researcher in K-State's department of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology from 1986 to 1996, McVey spent 10 years working for Merial and Pfizer in the biologicals and vaccine development sector. He did vaccine formulation in addition to production scale-up, methodologies and licensing work.

Because many of the diseases ABADRU works with are agents classified as biosafety level 3, or BSL-3, McVey and colleagues conduct their studies in K-State's Biosecurity Research Institute. Current and future projects with these diseases and others include many of the university's faculty members. ABADRU scientists all have adjunct faculty appointments in K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine, leading to collaborations that can involve many faculty members at K-State.

One of ABADRU's major efforts is focused on the Rift Valley fever virus, a disease that originated in East Africa and has spread to West Africa, Yemen and Egypt. Although it has yet to spread to the U.S., Rift Valley fever is mosquito-borne and is capable of being carried to North America, McVey said. For this study he and the other ABADRU scientists are working with Biosecurity Research Institute staff and Juergen A. Richt, a Regents distinguished professor at K-State and a Kansas Bioscience Authority eminent scholar.

Another collaboration pairs ABADRU and Plum Island researchers with Raymond "Bob" Rowland, a K-State virologist and professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology. The project, which will eventually transition to NBAF, centers on classical swine fever and African swine fever, the latter spread by ticks.

The unit also works heavily with exotic strains of bluetongue virus.

"Bluetongue virus is transmitted by midges, which are sort of like gnats. They're biting, blood-sucking insects, and they transmit disease," McVey said. "Some strains of bluetongue are already in the U.S., and we don't want the exotic strains from Europe and the Mediterranean region to spread here."

Many of the diseases ABADRU is studying and has studied have ties to insects. NBAF's centralized location will allow for easier collaboration with expert entomologists and will lead to new research opportunities with ABADRU, McVey said.

"Historically there have been other diseases we've worked on, and with the arrival of NBAF, there's potentially lots more for the future," McVey said.

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