By Kiril Dimitrov, DVM, PhD
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, commonly known as the 2018 Farm Bill, was enacted in December 2018. The 2018 Farm Bill provides support, certainty, and stability to the U.S. farmers, ranchers, and forest managers by enhancing farm support programs, improving crop insurance, and maintaining disaster programs. As part of the 2018 Farm Bill, the Congress authorized USDA to coordinate the development, implementation, and enhancement of national veterinary diagnostic laboratory capabilities, with special emphasis on surveillance planning and vulnerability analysis, technology development and validation, training, and outreach. Through a competitive funding opportunity, USDA solicits proposals for projects to enhance animal agriculture emergency preparedness and response capabilities specifically by addressing the needs of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) in the following areas: diagnostic technologies and procedures, testing capacity, and electronic reporting and data transmission. The overall objective is to increase capabilities, capacity, and readiness of the NAHLN to respond to animal pests and diseases affecting the economic interests of the livestock and related industries of the United States.
One of the most economically significant diseases of poultry, Newcastle disease (ND), is among the threats targeted for control by NAHLN. Newcastle disease is a severe and often fatal infection in chickens and is a threat to the poultry industry worldwide. The disease is considered foreign to the United States however, outbreaks in poultry occasionally occur, including an ongoing outbreak in California. Rapid and specific detection of the Newcastle disease viruses (NDV) and the differentiation from non-virulent viruses in suspected flocks is of critical importance for effective control to limit losses and costs involved with outbreak containment, such as depopulation, trade, and movement restrictions. NDV are constantly evolving, creating a large viral diversity, which presents diagnostic challenges as assays might fail to detect emerging variants. Testing NDV isolates from different genotypes with the currently validated test has resulted in several published and unpublished reports of either lower sensitivity or false negative results.
The mission of the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) is to promote animal health and protect agricultural and companion animals, and public health in Texas – and beyond – through excellence in veterinary diagnostic services. As a global leader in providing innovative and state-of-the-art veterinary diagnostic services, TVMDL recognized the need for development of an updated rapid and reliable test for detection of all types of NDV. TVMDL drafted a proposal to the NAHLN competitive grant opportunity for “Development and validation of a universal real-time RT-PCR assay to distinguish between virulent NDV and NDV of low-virulence and development of primers-probes bank for rapid distribution to field laboratories in response to a virulent NDV outbreak in the United States”.
In January 2020, the proposal was awarded, and the planned research and development will commence in March 2020. This project is a collaborative effort between Kiril Dimitrov, DVM, PhD, Pam Ferro, MS, PhD, Martin Ficken, DVM, PhD, and Gabriel Senties-Cue, MVZ, EPAA, MS; representing each of TVMDL’s four laboratories. The outcome of this project will enhance the preparedness of NAHLN laboratories in identifying virulent NDV in response to emerging Newcastle disease.