Cook hired as ‘brucellosis guru’
Laramie – When the Laramie Agenda came together several years ago in 2005, the group of brucellosis experts that gathered from around the country estimated brucellosis vaccine and diagnostic research would take anywhere from 10 to 30 years and from $20 to $40 million.
Today’s Consortium for the Advancement of Brucellosis Science (CABS) is a direct result of that event, as is the funded position recently filled by former Wyoming Assistant State Veterinarian Walt Cook.
“Anything related to brucellosis can fall into my lap,” says Cook of his new job as Brucellosis Coordinator within the University of Wyoming’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “My main job is to coordinate research regarding brucellosis in the university here in Laramie and elsewhere in other universities that are involved in CABS.”
“There’s a fair amount of research going on with regard to brucellosis, and there’s a concern that there’s no strong efforts toward vaccine research, and that’s what we’re trying to promote and coordinate,” continues Cook.
“Walt was hired to help us with all the brucellosis programming, and primarily to help organize CABS and keep it moving forward,” says UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Dean Frank Galey. “Our goal for the Consortium is ultimately to develop a better diagnostic test and a new vaccine for brucellosis – and that’s a long-term goal.”
Galey explains the long-term process involves some funding that kick-started the Consortium and meetings with researchers around the country, as well as stakeholders, which include state vets from Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, wildlife agencies and select legislators.
“Those folks are there to help us raise funds, and once we do get the funds to make sure we distribute them in a manner that will forward the overall goal,” says Galey of the stakeholders.
Cook says there are projects currently ongoing at UW, including some work that looks at proteins on the brucella bacteria. “That may be useful for diagnostic purposes, and also might serve as a good sub-unit vaccine,” he notes, saying it’s in the early stages and that the lab will try some work with rodents and mice, and if that works the next step is to get funding in place for large animals – either elk or cattle.
“A big problem with brucellosis research now is that it’s a select agent and all the research has to be done under tight conditions, and in Wyoming we don’t have a facility to do that type of research in large animals,” continues Cook.
Although the State Vet Lab will soon be to the point where work can be done with small animals, the large animals would still need to be researched in Louisiana or at the Ames, Iowa APHIS lab, unless UW could get some kind of exception.
Of the new lab space under construction this spring, Cook says it’s ahead of schedule and under budget. “Right now the brucellosis research here is being done with surrogates of the field strain, like Strain 19, and once the facilities get up we’ll be able to use the field strain in mice,” says Cook.
Of his position, Cook says under current funding it’s guaranteed for two years, after which he hopes it can move to a more permanent funding source.
Of fundraising, Galey says Cook will help come up with more grants, and he expresses dismay that USDA left brucellosis out of its competitive grants process this year.
“We’re looking at all sorts of avenues of funding, and we’ve had tremendous support from our legislative representatives in Washington, D.C. to get some things put through to help us,” says Galey. “We’re also working with individual states. We’re open-minded about where the money comes from, but we want to make sure we can start funding these projects at a level where we can get some answers, and Walt’s job is to catalyze that.”
Galey continues, “He will help coordinate the grant work at UW related to brucellosis, and he’ll also help manage the Brucellosis Coordination Team. He’ll be the brucellosis guru for a little while.”