Human Health in the Lab and on the Farm
Exploring ways to improve human health is a driving force for many researchers in the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, which is not the place many people would expect to find biomedical research.
The Institute for Antiviral Research is a team of faculty, technicians and student researchers in the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences (ADVS) focused on understanding and combatting viruses that have significant impacts on human health, including Zika, West Nile, influenza, Middle East Respiratory Virus and SARS. Since its founding in 1977, institute researchers have been awarded more than $100 million in grants and contracts from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and from private companies.
Transferring immunity from animals to help a human fight disease has been going on for centuries. There are downsides though as some people have adverse reactions to animal-derived antibodies. SAB Biotherapeutics’ approach aims to avoid that pitfall because the engineered animals produce fully human antibodies. The company has a herd of cattle at its South Dakota “pharm” and two of its treatments are in clinical trials. An off-shoot of the company is in Utah, and work at Utah State University is helping to determine if goats that express human antibodies are viable animal models.
Animals are important to researchers in their efforts to understand how diseases work, an important step in prevention or developing treatments. But animals’ physiology and chemistry isn’t always a good match for how humans will react to a virus, bacteria or to potential treatments. Associate Professor Zhongde Wang and his research team genetically engineered the first hamsters to be useful as models for many human diseases that previously had no animal models, or models that were severely limited.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of irregular heartbeat, affecting more than 2.7 million adults in the United States. “A fib” causes chest pain, fainting, rapid heartbeat, stroke, heart failure and other serious health problems. A team of researchers in ADVS have genetically engineered goats to help determine what makes some hearts more susceptible to atrial fibrillation, which could pave the way for developing better treatments.
Learning how mothers’ diets and the environment may contribute to the number of babies born with cleft palate has long been a focus of Professor Ron Munger’s work as he explores links between nutrition and public health. The research has taken him to a number of developing countries, but his work is just as important at home because Utah has the highest incidence of cleft palate in the United States.