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Ignacio Fernandez-Sainz

Postdoc catches bug for swine-flu vaccine research

Ignacio Fernandez-Sainz

As his five-year research term at Plum Island Animal Disease Center soon comes to a close, Ignacio Fernandez-Sainz—a postdoctoral student in veterinary medicine and microbiology— hopes to continue studying classical swine fever—a disease unknown in his home country of Argentina. Click image to enlarge.

Ignacio Fernandez-Sainz, Ph.D., has spent almost five years finding ways to tame the classical swine fever virus.

A native of Argentina (where he earned his doctorates in veterinary medicine and microbiology), Fernandez-Sainz is conducting classical swine fever, also referred to as CSF, studies at the Department of Homeland Security’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center, which is off the coast of Long Island, N.Y. He is participating in the Prevention and Control of Classical Swine Fever program, which is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.

The goal of Fernandez-Sainz’s research project is to screen for genomic sites or domains within the CSF viral genome—an organism’s hereditary information—that is associated with the virulence of this infectious agent in pigs. This could be potentially useful for the development of effective marker vaccines, aimed to help control an outbreak of the disease.

The ultimate purpose of the program is to develop a safe and efficient live vaccine against CSF that generates a rapid immune response and allows the differentiation between vaccinated and infected animals.

“This will be an invaluable tool for the control of an outbreak of this fatal disease not only in the United States but also worldwide,” Fernandez-Sainz said.

Working to find a CSF vaccine has proven to be a different animal for the virologist.

“I have been previously working in my country in vaccination programs aimed to prevent or control foot-and-mouth disease," he said. Foot-and-mouth disease is highly contagious and sometimes fatal for animals. It attacks cloven-hoofed animals, including cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats, pigs, bison and deer.

“I have learned a lot about a disease that is not present in my [home] country,” Fernandez-Sainz said. “This experience allowed me to recognize the importance of the availability of an efficient vaccine and the importance of the implementation of a successful control program against highly transmittable and economically devastating livestock diseases.”

During his virology studies, Fernandez-Sainz has come across some surprising findings.

“In 1997, the pig husbandry in the Netherlands was struck by a severe outbreak of classical swine fever,” he said. “Due to the lack of an efficient vaccine, 429 infected farms had to be depopulated and approximately 1,300 herds were slaughtered. As a consequence more than 12 million pigs had to be killed, accounting for more than $2 billion in direct losses.”

He also has gained new appreciation of the Plum Island facility.

“I did not realize the importance of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center,” Fernandez-Sainz said. “It does quality investigation in exotic animal diseases of high economic impact, while keeping the safest status in the country.”

After he is finished with his research at Plum Island, Fernandez-Sainz intends to continue CSF and virology research and participate in extension programs to inform pig producers and people working in pig farms about prevention and control of the disease.