The Department of Pathobiology has numerous active research programs involving faculty members, graduate students, and staff members. The departmental research programs deal with several pathologic aspects of animal diseases, infectious or non-infectious, e.g., cancer, and for some diseases, their infectious aspects of endangering human health (Lyme Disease, Crohn's Disease and Mycoplasma pneumonia).
Major research programs, and investigators are listed below:
Dr. Sandra Bushmich's research program currently focuses on equine diseases of importance to Connecticut and the region. One study follows two populations of horses that are naturally exposed to ticks infected with Borrelia burgdorferi (causative agent of Lyme disease). Lyme disease causes lameness and behavioral changes in horses. The presence of Borrelia burgdorferi in blood is determined by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique, and the serological (antibody) response to infection is measured using ELISA and immunoblot techniques. The pattern of natural infection is followed, as well as the response to various antibiotic treatments. A second study, in collaboration with colleagues at Yale University and L2 Dx company, is designed to determine serological response of horses to a novel recombinant vaccine for West Nile virus. West Nile virus encephalitis results in neurological disease in horses and humans, and has spread rapidly across the United States since its introduction in 1999. In addition to these two equine projects, Dr. Bushmich continues to study molecular sieve hemostatic compounds for use in the treatment of traumatic injury, with colleague Dr Steve Suib in UCONN's Chemistry department; they hold a patent on this technology.
Dr. Sylvain DeGuise is an environmental toxicologist and immunotoxicologist, whose major research attempts to understand immune suppression as a consequence of environmental toxins in particular congeners of PCB. His emphasis has been the study of marine mammals and he is currently creating a mouse model that will serve as a surrogate for these wild and difficult-to-study mammals. A separate line of research is defining the immune system of the oyster and understanding the interaction between protozoal parasites and various immune cells representing the host response.
Dr. Salvatore Frasca has developed expertise in the diseases of aquatic animal species and other wild or captive zoologic species. He and his graduate student, Andy Draghi, have recently defined a new species of Chlamydia that is responsible for significant gill disease in farmed salmonid fish. In addition, he takes particular research interest in defining Mycobacteria that have been identified with diseases of fish and other marine species. He is also actively investigating the pathogenesis of avain mycoplasmosis with emphasis on vaccine development for poultry.
Dr. Antonio Garmendia is a virologist with research intended to understand the pathogenesis and protective immunity of a viral infection of swine called PRRS (Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome). Various research efforts within his laboratory attempt to understand virus load, immune response initiated, major tissues that contain large amounts of the virus, and the way that vaccines may prevent clinical disease as well as the elimination of carriers. PRRS is currently the most economically important disease in the swine industry, both nationally and internationally. DNA vaccines supplemented with several cytokines are being employed in an attempt to examine protective immunity parameters. That may aid in the control of this important virus infection of swine. A second approach has been the generation of an adenovirus vector to carry PRRSV protection relevant genes.
Dr. Garmendia recently returned from a sabbatical leave in Spain where, with the help of collaborators, he experimentally tested a persistent infection with West Nile virus in an experimental mouse model. Grant applications have proposed large scale understanding of a variety of reservoirs for the West Nile virus here in New England, including raptors, game bird species, and waterfowl.
Dr. Steven Geary is a microbiologist who specializes in understanding the Mycoplasma-induced diseases of animals. He is also director of the Center of Excellence for Vaccine Research, which is housed in the department. His major thrust, and that of his graduate students, has been to define genetic elements responsible for attachment and virulence in Mycoplama gallisepticum, a significant pathogen in the poultry and commercial turkey industry. In addition he has collaborative research with investigators at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in defining pathogenesis, immune responses, and vaccine possibilities for Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae of swine and M. mycoides of ruminants. Other collaborations explore avenues for new varieties of vaccines against porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome and foot and mouth disease.
Dr. Mazhar Khan is an avian disease specialist and research investigator who has made a career of developing DNA-based molecular techniques for the recognition of poultry diseases. He has an important role in the surveillance for outbreaks of Salmonella food poisonings, as they relate back to contaminated eggs or poultry products - ultimately back to the farm of origin. In his basic research on Salmonella enteritidis, he has identified specific attachment outer-membrane proteins, which help the organisms bind to intestinal epithelial cells. Dr. Khan is a significant liaison with the poultry industry, playing an important role in surveillance for and containment of avian influenza, a matter of serious concern today. He is collaborating with Chinese scientists on an avian influenza control program in South China. A current research effort attempts to understand if a DNA vaccine against infectious bronchitis of the chicken, administered in ovo, will be more successful, more effective, and less expensive than current vaccines.
Dr. Guillermo Risatti has recently joined the faculty. He is a highly experienced molecular virologist who comes to us having recently worked at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. He continues to be a co-investigator in research conducted at the Island to better understand classical swine fever and various means for generating vaccines against this disease, a disease currently not present in North America. His new research, here at the University of Connecticut, will endeavor to understand pathogenesis, immune processes, and vaccine possibilities against the porcine reproductive and respiratory virus (PRRSV).
Dr. Joan Smyth has recently joined the faculty from Northern Ireland. She has extensive experience as a veterinary pathologist, with a particular interest in defining infectious diseases of farm animal species. She has published on adenovirus disease of cattle, sheep and chickens, and circovirus infection of commercial poultry and other bird species, and will continue her interests in discovering and defining virus-induced diseases of agricultural species. She also has research experience with necrotic enteritis of poultry, which is caused by Clostridium perfringens, and has plans to initiate research here defining the various types involved (A, B, C, D, E), the differences in pathogenesis induced by each, and ultimately means for control.
Dr. Herbert Van Kruiningen studies Crohn's disease, a chronic intestinal disorder of man, with the intent to define its etiology. This is a granulomatous disease thought by some to have an infectious agent as its basis. In the past his studies have included the search of diseased tissues for viruses and bacteria by culture and immunostaining and the search through serology for antibodies that might show an association between an infectious agent and the onset of disease. Most recently he has completed a study of 21 Belgian families affected by what is described as familial Crohn's disease, there being multiple cases within families. Ten control families were studied as well, in a search for environmental factors that might precipitate Crohn's disease. Families with Crohn's disease resided in villages surrounded by tilled agricultural land; often used human waste on their own vegetable gardens, a not uncommon practice in these communities; did not have a cat in the household, whereas control families did; and reported having drunk well water as their major source of potable water during patient's formative years, rather than tap or bottled water, which was the case with the control families.
In a parallel study, diseased tissues, taken from the resection specimens of patients with Crohn's disease from France and Belgium were compared with normal tissues from a control population, by PCR and RT-PCR, molecular diagnostic techniques, in search of evidence of persistent or recurring viruses that might initiate Crohn's disease. These included the herpesviruses, Epstein-Barr virus, toroviruses, and enteroviruses. Similar molecular studies are planned for the future as additional tissues are accessioned.