College of Agriculture & Natural Resources

Using Animal Viruses to Create Healthier Humans

UMD veterinary researchers receive funding to develop vaccines for multiple human diseases
Image Credit: 
Edwin Remsberg

Could a chicken virus contain the key to eradicating deadly human illnesses like norovirus, Lyme disease and even AIDS? Researchers with the University of Maryland’s Department of Veterinary Medicine have been awarded roughly $2 million in competitive grants over the last year and a half to uncover an answer to that very question.

Funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will allow scientists to work on creating human vaccines using a potent poultry virus called Newcastle Disease Virus (NDV). Inside the department’s state of the art bio-security lab, UMD researchers are using harmless strains of NDV to try to develop human vaccines for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, norovirus, and most recently, Lyme disease.

“These are all new areas of research for us,” says Dr. Siba Samal, chair of the UMD Department of Veterinary Medicine. “We are already seeing some promising results and hope to be able to expand our work.”

While it is extremely contagious in many species of birds and economically devastating for the poultry industry worldwide, Newcastle disease is not harmful to humans and non-infectious strains of NDV have been used to vaccinate chickens for more than 60 years with a good track record. Dr. Samal says NDV is a smart and safe choice for this kind of research because although humans don’t get sick from it, they aren’t inherently immune to it.  

Click here for more information on the University of Maryland’s Department of Veterinary Medicine.

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