Frank Booth vividly remembers his visits to the nursing home where his mother was living
In 2016, the World Health Organization called the Zika virus epidemic a “public health emergency of international concern” due to the virus causing birth defects for pregnant women in addition to neurological problems. Since then, researchers have wrestled with different strategies for controlling the spread of Zika virus, which gets transmitted to humans from female mosquito bites.
One approach, which was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency in May, will release more than 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes into the Florida Keys in 2021 and 2022. These “suicide mosquitoes” are genetically-altered to produce offspring that die before emerging into adults and therefore cannot bite humans and spread disease.
However, wiping out future generations of mosquitoes may cause environmental complications, such as potentially disrupting food chains. A new research study at the University of Missouri offers another option: genetically modifying mosquitoes to be resistant to Zika virus altogether.
Alexander Franz, an associate professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, collaborated with researchers at Colorado State University by using CRISPR gene-editing technology to produce mosquitoes that are unable to replicate Zika virus and therefore cannot infect a human through biting.
“We genetically manipulated these mosquitoes by inserting an artificial gene into their genome that triggers one of the immune pathways in the midgut to recognize and destroy the RNA genome of Zika virus,” Franz said. “By developing these mosquitoes that are resistant to the virus, the disease cycle is interrupted so transmission to humans can no longer take place.”
Franz added that the genetic modification is inheritable, so future generations of the altered mosquitoes would be resistant to Zika virus as well.
“We are interested in strategies for controlling insect vectors like mosquitoes that transmit various viruses affecting human health,” Franz said. “Public health experts suggest having a toolbox with different approaches available to tackle a virus such as Zika, and unfortunately right now there are limited options. There is no vaccine for the Zika virus available and spraying insecticides has become ineffective since the mosquitoes can develop resistance, so we are simply trying to expand the toolbox and provide a solution by genetically modifying the mosquitoes to become Zika-
Franz’ research is designed to help prevent another outbreak of Zika virus disease from occurring.
“If you can ever find a way to block the transmission of a pathogen that negatively affects humans, that is good news,” Franz said. “We have shown this is a viable option for genetically modifying mosquitoes in a lab setting. There would need to be thorough discussions about regulatory compliance to see if this can be a solution out in the field down the road, and who knows when another Zika outbreak might happen in the future, which is why this research is so important.”
“The Antiviral Small-Interfering RNA Pathway Induces Zika Virus Resistance in Transgenic Aedes aegypti” was recently published in Viruses. Co-authors on the study are Adeline E. Williams, Irma Sanchez-Vargas, William R. Reid, Jingyi Lin and Ken E. Olson. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Story courtesy of Show Me Mizzou
Contact: Brian Consiglio, 573-882-9144, email@example.com
Kerry Karaffa is the first MU Counseling Center psychologist to be embedded specifically within the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, where he provides tailored counseling services for professional students training to become veterinarians. He is also aware that veterinarians are at increased risk for mental health concerns and suicidality compared to the general public due to the stressful demands of the job.
To help universities better serve students dealing with high levels of stress and anxiety, Karaffa conducted a research study in which he developed and distributed a survey to other counselors specifically embedded in veterinary medical programs at universities throughout the country. He hoped to better understand the benefits they provide to their students and create a blueprint for practicing counselors and college administrators considering embedded counseling services in specific programs or colleges on campus. He concluded that embedded counseling services offer a convenient way to increase accessibility to mental health services for students with demanding schedules and made several suggestions for developing and sustaining these services.
“The benefit of being embedded specifically within the MU College of Veterinary Medicine is that I have a greater understanding of the challenges veterinary medical students have, and I am better prepared to tailor services to meet the needs of the students I work with,” Karaffa said. “Veterinary medical students may work very long hours in their courses and clinical training, so the fact that my office is located just down the hall from them means they don’t have to go all the way across campus to the Counseling Center if their schedule doesn’t allow that flexibility.”
Karaffa added that as more universities start to consider embedding counselors in specific programs or colleges on campus, several factors should be considered. These include logistical factors such as office space and information technology resources, ethical and practice challenges, as well as the need to hire licensed, well-qualified counselors. In addition, providing the embedded counselors with mentorship and professional development support can ensure a smoother transition.
“While this particular study focuses on counselors embedded within colleges of veterinary medicine, I also want to help counseling center directors and university administrators who are truly just trying their best to serve their students in a variety of ways,” Karaffa said. “Medical schools and law schools are other areas where graduate and professional students are often under a lot of stress, so those could be areas where embedded counseling services could offer tremendous benefits to students going forward.”
In addition to improving mental health on college campuses, Karaffa believes improving accessibility to counseling services will benefit students even after they graduate from school and enter their various professions in society.
“People who are psychologically healthy tend to be happier with their jobs and do better work,” Karaffa said. “They also tend to have happier relationships, so early intervention and prevention work is always better than waiting until a small problem turns into a big one.”
“Embedded student counseling services: Insights from veterinary mental health practitioners” was recently published in the Journal of College Counseling.
Story courtesy of Show Me Mizzou
Contact: Brian Consiglio, 573-882-9144, firstname.lastname@example.org
Following an alert by a University of Missouri veterinary toxicology expert working in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Midwestern Pet Foods, Inc. voluntarily recalled some of their Sportmix brand of pet food on Dec. 30, 2020. The FDA launched a formal investigation to identify all Sportmix pet food products containing potentially fatal levels of aflatoxin, a fungal toxin that can be poisonous if consumed by animals or humans. The FDA is now aware of more than 30 canine deaths and 8 illnesses in dogs, located in multiple states, that ate the contaminated product.
MU’s Tim Evans, an associate professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and head of the toxicology section in MU’s Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (VMDL), alerted the Missouri Department of Agriculture and Steve Strubberg, Missouri’s State Veterinarian, after a sample of pet food submitted to the VMDL by one of his former students, David Sikes, was found to contain high, potentially fatal levels of aflatoxin that exceeded FDA regulations.
The FDA’s deputy director for the Division of Compliance at the Center for Veterinary Medicine, Amber McCoig, is another former student of Evans, and she has been actively involved in the investigation since its very beginning.
“Although this pet food recall is still unfolding, we are sharing the facts we have so far because the levels of aflatoxin found in the recalled pet food are potentially fatal,” said McCoig, who graduated from MU in 2005. “We are working quickly on this developing situation and will continue to update the public as new information becomes available. This is in service of FDA’s mission to protect human and animal health.”
Evans provides an overview of what happened and advice for what pet owners should look out for and what to do if they suspect their pet may have eaten contaminated pet food:
How did the Sportmix pet food become contaminated?
While the FDA is still investigating, we know that aflatoxin can be produced by mold in grains, especially drought-stressed corn, and high levels of the toxin can be extremely poisonous to pets. Corn is a major ingredient in some of Midwestern Pet Food’s Sportsmix products.
How did you first find out the pet food was potentially contaminated?
When I heard from a former student practicing in the southern part of Missouri about some dogs showing clinical signs resembling aflatoxicosis, I asked him to send a deceased dog for a postmortem examination and a sample of the dog’s food to be tested for aflatoxins at MU’s Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (VMDL). One of the VMDL’s pathologists, Gayle Johnson, found changes consistent with aflatoxicosis on the postmortem examination. In addition, the VMDL toxicology section found high concentrations of aflatoxin that exceeded state and federal action levels for aflatoxins in pet foods. I immediately notified the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Feed and Seed Control Program, as well as Missouri’s State Veterinarian, and they began their investigation. Once the VMDL’s results were confirmed by another laboratory and the pet food brand was identified, the FDA was formally notified and Midwestern Pet Foods voluntarily recalled products suspected of being contaminated. Since that time, the FDA, MDA and regulatory agencies in other states have continued their investigations. On Jan. 11, 2021, Midwestern Pet Foods expanded their recall to include additional products containing corn, which were manufactured at their Oklahoma plant.
What are the symptoms in pets to look out for?
The clinical signs to look for in your pet include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea and potentially yellow mucous membranes in the pet’s mouth.
What should I do if I have been feeding my pets Sportmix pet food and they start to experience the symptoms mentioned above? Is there a treatment for animals?
The first steps are to identify whether you have been feeding or had previously fed any of the recalled products, immediately stop feeding those products to your pets, and call your veterinarian right away to have your exposed pets examined and have appropriate blood tests performed. Blood tests can indicate whether pets are exhibiting clinical signs consistent with exposure to aflatoxins. Be sure to have specific information on hand about the pet food product, such as the product’s name, expiration date and barcode. Veterinarians should ask if multiple pets in a household have been eating the same food and if similar symptoms are present in multiple pets.
Aflatoxins primarily affect the liver, so prompt removal of pets from the source of the aflatoxins, as well as early diagnosis and treatment, are critical for the survival of exposed pets. There are a number of treatment options that veterinarians have at their disposal to help treat aflatoxicosis in pets. However, the potential for aflatoxin exposure is often not identified until an animal’s liver is severely damaged. For this reason, it is extremely important that all potentially contaminated products be identified and recalled as soon as possible, and possibly-exposed animals be examined and treated by their veterinarians.
Which products have been recalled?
An up-to-date list of the recalled pet food products can be found here. As new information becomes available, the product list may continue to expand. Sportmix pet food products are commonly sold in both big-box retailers and online distributors.
Can pet owners report suspected contaminated pet food to the FDA?
Yes, click here to find information on the FDA’s website to report a pet food complaint. Have as much information as possible when submitting your complaint, including the name of the product, type of container, expiration date and net weight.
How does Mizzou work with the Missouri Department of Agriculture and FDA?
This recall is a perfect example that illustrates Mizzou’s commitment to the ‘One Health’ approach. By collaborating with governmental and business industries, the research at Mizzou is aimed at service and outreach to benefit Missourians and keep animals safe and healthy.
Story courtesy of Show Me Mizzou
To arrange an interview with Tim Evans, please contact Brian Consiglio with the MU News Bureau at 573-882-9144 or email@example.com.
Results of a newly-published study funded by HABRI and the Winn Feline Foundation in the Animal Studies Journal, led by researchers at the University of Missouri, demonstrate the effectiveness of the Feline Temperament Profile (FTP) in assessing the behavioral responses of cats in different situations.