A University of Illinois swine researcher has received a three-year, $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to continue efforts into developing a genetically engineered vaccine for porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

Dongwan Yoo has devoted more than a dozen years to the study of PRRS, a viral pathogen that was identified 20 years ago and remains a leading disease threat to the pork industry today.

His earlier work identified two proteins in the PRRS virus that likely help the virus evade the pig’s immune response by shutting down interferon, a frontline defense in the cell’s protective arsenal against infection.

Using the USDA grant, Yoo’s lab in the Department of Pathobiology will use genetic engineering to further map the mechanisms by which the PRRS virus alters the interferon response. He plans to develop mutant PRRS viruses that don’t suppress the interferon response, but instead trigger a normal immune response in the pig. The mutant viruses will be evaluated for their potential in creating a vaccine against PRRS.

In June, Yoo’s vaccine work was recognized at the Eleventh International Nidovirus Symposium held in Oxford, United Kingdom. He presented work that demonstrated how a vaccine developed with a genetically altered PRRS virus could carry genes from another swine disease, porcine circovirus type 2, to induce antibody responses in pigs to both pathogens. This effort shows the potential for using the PRRS virus to create vaccines that protect against other diseases in pigs.

Yoo is part of an integrated PRRS research effort at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine:

  • Federico Zuckerman is working on cell-mediated immunity to develop a robust cell line for use in a PRRS vaccine;
  • William Laegreid is using state-of-the-art molecular genomics and population-based studies to assess factors affecting the PRRS virus; and
  • Larry Firkins, DVM, is evaluating best management practices on hog farms and the economic impact of PRRS on Illinois pork producers.

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