Vinicius Machado is part of the Zoonotic & Infectious Diseases Research Center created to study and battle animal-borne illnesses.
Aside from a few domesticated pets and some lions at the Bronx Zoo, the coronavirus pandemic that has gripped mankind around the world has yet to show itself in the animal kingdom.
That's not to say, however, that lessons learned in veterinary medicine can't be applied to the study of diagnosing, treating and eradicating COVID-19. What can be learned through treatment of disease in animals has proven crucial to understanding how to treat disease in humans.
While the biggest threat to dairy and beef cattle through this pandemic has been the economic impacts wrought from a downturn in the market and the attack on food supplies, the work done by one Texas Tech University researcher could help understand how to attack future illnesses that are zoonotic, or transmitted from animals to humans.
That is why Vinicius Machado, an assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Sciences in the Texas Tech University College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources, is part of the new Texas Tech Zoonotic & Infectious Diseases Research Center. As a collaboration of experts from different disciplines across Texas Tech University System, the center will help detect and diagnose emerging diseases that originate in animals but could infect humans, and determine the environmental factors that can lead to their transmission, threatening the stability of society, just as COVID-19 has done.
Machado's expertise and research involves the disciplines of epidemiology, immunology and metagenomics with the goal of promoting dairy cattle health and industry sustainability. Since arriving at Texas Tech, his focus has been on helping dairy farmers safely and effectively optimize the use of antimicrobial drugs to treat and prevent infectious diseases in dairy cattle, specifically metritis, mastitis and bovine respiratory disease.
"I believe my expertise in veterinary medicine will greatly contribute to our new center," Machado said. "Because prevention and development of alternative therapies for these diseases will likely decrease the risk of antimicrobial resistance development, my research can directly impact public health."
Even though the coronavirus has not been detected in cattle, Machado feels his expertise in veterinary medicine, immunology and microbiology will play a key role in the success of the Center. His experience with techniques involved with metagenomics, or the study of genetic material recovered from environmental samples, as well as immunological qualities, could provide a pathway toward understanding how infectious diseases interact with host cells.
"This could further our knowledge about the pathogenic origins of infectious diseases and how the host immune system adapts to fight infection," Machado said.
Machado's current research is focused on developing a targeted strategy for the treatment of metritis in dairy cattle. Metritis is a painful, postpartum uterine bacterial infection in dairy cows associated with decreased levels of milk production and fertility. It is one of the major drivers of antimicrobial drug use in lactating cows, most often the drug ceftiofur, a third-generation cephalosporin.
Recently, Machado received a sizeable grant from the United States Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food Agriculture's Cooperative State Research Education & Extension Service, which he is using to try to predict the spontaneous cure and treatment failure of metritis in dairy cattle, one of the more common diseases for which the drugs are used.
Other research he currently is working on includes a collaboration with other institutions to explain how microorganisms that exist in udder skin around parturition can influence the risk of intramammary infections of dairy cows in an organic management system.
"Collectively, we will generate crucial information regarding the impact and etiology of intramammary infections in organic dairies," Machado said. "We will potentially identify protective bacteria that will eventually be tested as alternative prophylactic strategies for mastitis in organic herds."
Part of the challenge worldwide in controlling and decreasing the number of coronavirus infections has been trying to find something that can act as a vaccine. Laboratories around the world are working around the clock trying to find an effective combination of drugs that can attack the virus without further harming humans.
Plus, medical experts continue to struggle to understand the true actions of the virus as the symptoms are not always consistent from one patient to the next. Similarly, the biggest challenge to understanding the dynamics of infectious diseases, Machado said, is the lack of immune reagents specific to dairy cattle.
"In many instances, we have to test the cross reactivity with bovine molecules of antibodies specific to other species," Machado said. "Additionally, in many instances, we have to add extra steps in our testing to run immune assays, which can be costly or significantly increase the complexity of assays. Ultimately, these challenges hamper our ability to characterize different aspects of the bovine immune response against infectious agents."
With meat-packing plants across the country shuttering due to the pandemic, and the food supply of the country under assault, finding a way to safely and effectively increase hygiene and vaccinations in order to stabilize biosecurity when it comes to animals will play a key role in how the U.S. comes back from COVID-19. Machado is excited about what the Zoonotic & Infectious Diseases Research Center can contribute to that effort.
"I believe this new collaborative effort will be a bridge linking innovators across campus, which will not only widen the possibilities of individual faculty but increase the productivity of the university as a whole," Machado said.