While the biggest threat to dairy and beef cattle producers during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the economic impacts wrought from a downturn in the market and the changes in food supplies, Texas Tech University said the work done by one of its researchers could help understand how to attack future zoonotic diseases -- those that are transmitted from animals to humans.
Vinicius Machado, an assistant professor in Texas Tech's department of veterinary sciences, is part of the recently announced Texas Tech Zoonotic & Infectious Diseases Research Center.
As a collaboration of experts from different disciplines across the Texas Tech University System, the center will help detect and diagnose emerging diseases that originate in animals but could infect people and determine the environmental factors that can lead to their transmission, threatening the stability of society, Texas Tech said.
Machado's expertise and research involves the disciplines of epidemiology, immunology and metagenomics with the goal of promoting dairy cattle health and industry sustainability. Since arriving at Texas Tech, his focus has been on helping dairy farmers safely and effectively optimize the use of antimicrobial drugs to treat and prevent infectious diseases in dairy cattle, specifically metritis, mastitis and bovine respiratory disease.
"Because prevention and development of alternative therapies for these diseases will likely decrease the risk of antimicrobial resistance development, my research can directly impact public health," Machado said.
His experience with techniques involved with metagenomics, or the study of genetic material recovered from environmental samples, as well as immunological qualities, could provide a pathway toward understanding how infectious diseases interact with host cells.
"This could further our knowledge about the pathogenic origins of infectious diseases and how the host immune system adapts to fight infection," Machado said.
His current research is focused on developing a targeted strategy for the treatment of metritis in dairy cattle. Metritis is a painful, postpartum uterine bacterial infection in dairy cows associated with decreased levels of milk production and fertility. It is one of the major drivers of antimicrobial drug use in lactating cows, most often the drug ceftiofur, a third-generation cephalosporin.
Recently, Machado received a sizeable grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food & Agriculture, which he is using to try to predict the spontaneous cure and treatment failure of metritis in dairy cattle, one of the more common diseases for which the drugs are used.
Other research he is working on currently includes a collaboration with other institutions to explain how microorganisms that exist in udder skin around parturition can influence the risk of intramammary infections of dairy cows in an organic management system.
"Collectively, we will generate crucial information regarding the impact and etiology of intramammary infections in organic dairies," Machado said. "We will potentially identify protective bacteria that will eventually be tested as alternative prophylactic strategies for mastitis in organic herds."
According to Texas Tech, part of the global challenge in controlling and decreasing the COVID-19 pandemic has been trying to find something that can act as a vaccine, and laboratories around the world are working to find an effective combination of drugs that can attack the virus without further harming humans.
Similarly, the biggest challenge to understanding the dynamics of infectious diseases is the lack of immune reagents specific to dairy cattle, Machado said.
"In many instances, we have to test the cross reactivity with bovine molecules of antibodies specific to other species," Machado said. "Additionally, in many instances, we have to add extra steps in our testing to run immune assays, which can be costly or significantly increase the complexity of assays. Ultimately, these challenges hamper our ability to characterize different aspects of the bovine immune response against infectious agents."