Research & Intervention

Life-Saving Vaccines

Human health depends upon healthy livestock

Creating vaccines that change and save lives

Washington State University scientists take the lead in creating vaccines to control major diseases in livestock—diseases that cripple economic progress across Africa, Asia, and Central/South America.

How animal research helps us all

Through their work to improve the health of animals in developing countries, scientists at the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health will enhance human health and well-being as well.

Helping families who depend on animals

The importance of animal health to the rural residents of developing countries cannot be overstated.

  • Reliance on animals in less-developed nations. Farming families in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, depend on small herds of cattle or goats for meat and milk, for labor (pulling carts or plows, carrying loads), and for status. A family’s livestock may be its primary source of disposable income.
  • The impact of disease. Loss of a single animal to an infectious disease can have profound effects on the family, ranging from putting less food on the table to forcing the children to go to work rather than attending school.

Helping the environment

WSU researchers are working to develop vaccines against some of the most debilitating animal pathogens in the tropics, including Anaplasma and Babesia. While protecting livestock is the primary goal, reliable vaccines will also improve the human environment.

  • Fighting tick-borne illness. These blood parasites are transmitted by ticks, and in many parts of the world, the main weapon against them is massive application of pesticides to get rid of the ticks.
  • Reducing pesticide use. Use of pesticides in poorer countries is often not well-monitored, leading to contamination of human food and water supplies. Having vaccines against vector-borne diseases will allow farmers and governments to reduce or discontinue their use of pesticides.

Gaining insights into human disease

WSU research on livestock diseases has already paid dividends in the study of human pathogens.

  • Shape-shifting pathogens. Anaplasma and Babesia behave much like the organisms that cause malaria, sleeping sickness, and other human maladies, but their genomes are smaller and easier to analyze. All of these pathogens persist throughout the life of the host by changing their surface proteins so the host’s antibodies no longer recognize them.
  • Enabling discoveries that help humans. Guy Palmer, Kelly Brayton, and others at WSU discovered how Anaplasma alters its appearance. Their work provided the clues that researchers elsewhere used to determine that the organism that causes relapsing fever in humans employs a similar mechanism.
  • Vaccine development. Brayton, Terry McElwain, and Audrey Lau are working to design an attenuated (weakened) strain of Babesia to use as a vaccine in livestock. Their efforts could provide insights valuable in the development of a vaccine against malaria, which is caused by Plasmodium falciparum, a close cousin of Babesia.