Research Magazine

Auburn Research
Fall / Winter 2021
Auburn CVM Home to New Animal Health and Agro-/Bio Defense Program

The Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine is home to the new Animal Health and Agro-/Bio Defense, or AHAD, program. The program will complement and extend the impact of ongoing work in this domain as a new element in the national network of U.S. government agencies and land grant universities focusing primarily on diseases affecting economically important domestic animals, including those diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans (zoonotic diseases), pose a significant threat to public health or impact national security and economic stability locally, nationally and globally.

Cows standing in a field

According to Dr. Frank "Skip" Bartol, Alumni Professor and associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Veterinary Medicine – who is spearheading AHAD along with Dr. Paul Walz, head of the CVM's Department of Pathobiology – Auburn's AHAD program will be positioned to serve as a southern regional node in the Coalition for Epi Response Engagement Science, or CERES, that now includes primarily universities in the Midwest and West. Research programs in the AHAD space expect to work closely with the soon-to-be-commissioned National Bio- and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas, a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The NBAF will be the first laboratory facility in the U.S. to provide maximum bio-containment (BSL-4) space to enable study of high-consequence zoonotic diseases affecting large livestock, and will also support pilot-scale development of vaccines and other medical countermeasures designed to mitigate threats to agro-security. The NBAF is further expected to advance research focused on agro-/bio-defense guided by scientists in the USDA Agricultural Research Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, as well as to accelerate technology transfer to industry partners.

"As part of that nationwide effort, Auburn's AHAD program will expand the mission and capacity of the College of Veterinary Medicine's existing animal health research," Bartol explained, "to include research complementary to the goals of the NBAF, the USDA and the Department of Homeland Security. It will work closely with partners in the allied federal space and will leverage the capabilities of a National Animal Health Laboratory Network-supported program established at the Alabama State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, adjacent to the veterinary campus.

“As part of that nationwide effort, Auburn’s AHAD program will expand the mission and capacity of the College of Veterinary Medicine’s existing animal health research.”

– Dr. Frank “Skip” Bartol

"Auburn subject matter experts with significant food animal research experience already include specialists in internal medicine, virology, immunology, molecular diagnostics, vaccinology and zoonotics," Bartol added. "We hope that the establishment of AHAD will further enable expansion of this program to include recruitment of an epidemiologist/informatics specialist and one or more specialists in microbiomics/pathogenomics."

AHAD will focus on the biodefense mission, consistent with four strategic areas of the National Biodefense Strategy as identified by the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, or ARS. Those areas include: predicting the emergence of pathogens in livestock and associated wildlife; understanding the ecology of exotic, emerging and re-emerging pathogens; incident response research: and the development of veterinary medical countermeasures for early detection, prevention and treatment of foreign and emerging animal diseases.

The AHAD program at Auburn will be strengthened by proximity to and engagement with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Immediate efforts will also involve cooperative research with the USDA-ARS, to involve scientists at the U.S. National Poultry Research Center in Athens, Georgia, where BSL-3 biocontainment facilities are available. Work will advance the USDA-ARS National Program 103 Action Plan – designed to protect and ensure the safety of the nation's agriculture and food supply through improved disease detection, prevention and control. The program will also contribute to this area of national need through service as a training center for the next generation of veterinary researchers and basic animal health scientists.

"Over the years, the Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine has established working relationships with a number of federal agencies operating in the agro-/bio-defense space," Bartol said. "AHAD will work closely with its partners to meet the CERES mission to ‘protect and defend America's agricultural industry against global health threats and to provide innovation for food security, now and into the future.'"

Last updated: October 19, 2021