LINCOLN, Neb. — Growing up on his family's swine farm in Vietnam, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln grad saw firsthand the benefits of vaccinating livestock. Now, he's leading a research project against the African swine fever.
Hiep Vu watched his parents gradually increase the size of their operation, and when they inoculated their animals, the positive results struck Vu.
“It amazed me at that time how vaccines work,” said Vu, now an assistant professor of animal science at UNL. He earned a degree in Vietnam to become a veterinarian, but his scientific interests broadened into animal-focused immunology.
“I started to be interested in working on vaccines,” he said, “because that is the most cost-effective way to protect from infectious diseases.”
Vu received his master’s degree in veterinary science at UNL and then a doctorate in integrative biomedical sciences.
An expert in swine viruses, he is now embarking on a collaborative, federally funded project to fill in a major knowledge gap that has hindered development of a vaccine for African swine fever (ASF). The disease doesn’t affect humans, but when it affects a swine supply, only a handful of pigs survive.
Experts say experience with the disease this century shows that the fallout for swine production can be catastrophic.
Vu and his research partners have received the support of a $770,000, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture for the project.
And because ASF isn’t found in the United States at present, samples from pigs infected with the virus are not readily available for research.
The project is partnering with scientists at the Vietnam National University of Agriculture, because ASF isn’t found in the United States currently.
Through this international partnership, the Husker researchers have access to many samples collected from pigs that were infected with the most virulent strain of ASF virus. These samples are valuable for studying the pig’s immune responses to ASF viral infection.
The project will identify viral proteins that are immunogenic — that trigger the pig’s immune system to generate antibodies against ASF. Then, Vu said, the researchers “can compare among them to know which ones are relatively more immunogenic than the others.”
“We will have a complete picture of the pig’s antibody profile against ASF infection,” Vu said.