The Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center's expertise in animal coronaviruses is crossing the species barrier to aid in the study and control of a serious threat to human health and a potential bioterror weapon: severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

Linda Saif, a virologist with OARDC's Food Animal Health Research Program, was awarded a four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to create a SARS model using the porcine respiratory coronavirus – a pathogen that commonly infects pigs and shares similarities with the coronavirus that causes SARS. Saif will collaborate on this project with Kristien Van Reeth, a researcher with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Belgium's Ghent University.

In addition, Linda Saif and FAHRP Chair Mo Saif have landed a $1 million contract with NIH and the American Type Culture Collection to produce livestock- and poultry-coronavirus materials for distribution to the World Health Organization and its collaborating labs around the world.

Linda Saif says pigs are an economical and well-suited animal model to study the SARS coronavirus. "Pigs mimic the human disease," she says. "The anatomy, physiology and immune system of the pig respiratory tract closely resembles that of man, providing a unique animal model for the study of viral respiratory disease in humans."

In creating the model, Linda Saif and Van Reeth will look at the role of multiple-microbe infections in the severity of SARS; the potential effect of host immune factors such as pro-inflammatory cytokines – activated immune cells that are involved in the amplification of inflammatory reactions – in SARS' acute pulmonary damage; and the impact of various treatments used in SARS patients, such as steroids and interferons, on respiratory infection and lung damage.

While working on the SARS model, Linda Saif's lab also will be producing swine, cattle and other animal-coronavirus antisera and virus pools for WHO and ATCC. Mo Saif will do the same with poultry coronaviruses. These materials will be distributed worldwide to agencies and labs that deal with SARS research.

Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center