Virginia Tech recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Chonbuk National University in Jeonju, Korea, that will establish an exchange program and help the Korean university create a zoonotic disease research center to investigate infectious diseases that affect both animals and humans.

Virginia Tech Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Mark McNamee and Chonbuk National University President Geo-suk Suh signed the memorandum of understanding.

The memorandum of understanding will support the development of a variety of collaborative plans designed to benefit each university’s educational and research programs through the exchange of faculty, students, scientific information and other material.

Drs. Stephen Boyle and Nammalwar Sriranganathan, both professors in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's (VMRCVM) Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, and Dr. Byeong-Kirl Baek, dean of the newly established Korean Zoonoses Research Institute at the Korean university, will serve as the key contacts for facilitating the opportunities outlined in this partnership.

In addition, Boyle and Sriranganathan will serve as scientific consultants for the Korean institute as they begin to establish their zoonotic research program.

“We truly have one of the unique opportunities in the world to make disease prevention more comprehensive and effective in terms of educating veterinarians, physicians and scientists in the pursuit of novel and improved diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics,” said Boyle.

The development of the Korean Zooneses Research Institute and agreement with Virginia Tech was prompted by a recent brucellosis endemic in Korea and subsequent visit from Baek to the VMRCVM to study the RB51 vaccine. That vaccine, now being used widely around the world, was developed by VMRCVM Dean Gerhardt Schurig, Boyle, and Sriranganathan after years of research in the college’s Center for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease.

Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease that causes reproductive problems in cattle and other ruminants and undulant fever in humans. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta (CDC) considers brucellosis a Category A bioterrorism agent. As a result of the development and implementation of the RB51 vaccine, brucellosis has been essentially eradicated from the U.S. cattle population; however, it is still a major problem in Korea and in other countries around the world. RB51 is currently being tested in Korea as is a second generation of the vaccine known as RB51x which will protect against additional zoonotic diseases.

“The development of an improved RB51 vaccine, in principal, protects additional animals and humans,” said Boyle. “This is one of the many benefits of two extremely developed countries collaborating to utilize technologies to tackle disease.”

While the initial plans for collaboration are primarily between the VMRCVM and the Korean Zoonoses Research Institute, it is expected the MOU will eventually be expanded to encompass other exchange programs throughout both universities, said Boyle.

The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) is a two-state, three-campus professional school operated by the land-grant universities of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and the University of Maryland at College Park. Its flagship facilities, based at Virginia Tech, include the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which treats more than 40,000 animals annually. Other campuses include the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Va., and the Avrum Gudelsky Veterinary Center at College Park, home of the Center for Government and Corporate Veterinary Medicine. The VMRCVM annually enrolls approximately 500 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and graduate students, is a leading biomedical and clinical research center, and provides professional continuing education services for veterinarians practicing throughout the two states. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.

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