Some of the biggest threats to national security come from enemies that cannot be easily contained inside of geographic borders. These threats take the forms of highly contagious epidemic diseases called transboundary animal diseases, also known as TADs.
Kansas State University is helping to confront these diseases through a special research fellowship program supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and administered through the Biosecurity Research Institute, or BRI, and the College of Veterinary Medicine.
"This program leverages the expertise and resources of the BRI and the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory to train next-generation doctoral students, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine students and postdoctoral researchers to work in high- and maximum-containment environments on TADs," said Dana Vanlandingham, assistant professor of virology in the diagnostic medicine and pathobiology department. "So far, we have developed five classes in diagnostic medicine and pathobiology and will develop one more for the summer."
Some of the classes include DMP 690, Essential Practices for BSL-3 Research Settings; DMP 895-B, Select Agent Studies; and DMP 893, Principles of Biosafety and Biocontainment. The Biosecurity Research Institute started training its first group of Transboundary Animal Diseases fellows in August 2016.
"Our objective is to support graduate degree-seeking individuals or individuals who are just beginning their postdoctoral careers," Vanlandingham said.
The program and the work at the Biosecurity Research Institute and College of Veterinary Medicine are among the reasons why a member of the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense recently dubbed Kansas State University as "the Silicon Valley of biodefense."
The College of Veterinary Medicine students currently enrolled in the program are Christopher Holderman, Iola; Christian Rittmann, Oberlin; Rachel Palinski, Suwanee, Georgia; Laura Constance, Clyde, North Carolina; and Victoria Ayers, Prague, Oklahoma.
"I've been working under Dr. Megan Niederwerder and Dr. Bob Rowland in the College of Veterinary Medicine to study porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, classical swine fever virus and African swine fever virus," said Constance, who is working on both her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and a doctorate in pathobiology at Kansas State University. "Ultimately, I would like to become involved with the One Health Initiative as well as pursue a career in a high-containment research facility as a veterinarian."
Holderman earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture at Kansas State University in 2010, and then attended the University of Florida where he earned a master's degree and doctorate in veterinary entomology in 2012 and 2016, respectively. He plans to use his experience to become a principle investigator in a high-containment laboratory through either a government or university setting.
The Biosecurity Research Institute is now accepting applications for another five research fellowship positions in the program to start this fall. Both the current group and incoming group will be expected to finish the fellowship in the summer of 2018.
Benefits include an annual stipend of $25,000, tuition assistance up to $5,000, and program-related travel expenses. Applicants are required to enroll in the Transboundary Animal Disease Fellowship Program for 18 credit hours at Kansas State University and must hold U.S. citizenship.