When Grant Waldrop of Greenville, South Carolina, had a chance to present a poster at the Brucellosis 2016 International Research Conference, a three-day conference in New Delhi, India attended by over 350 delegates representing 23 different countries, he jumped at the chance.
“International conferences offer an array of great experiences not only within your field of research but also in exploring cultures that are unfamiliar to you,” explained Waldrop, who is a dual degree DVM/Ph.D. student at the veterinary college.
Waldrop’s advisor, Nammalwar “Nathan” Sriranganathan, professor of veterinary microbiology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, was instrumental in organizing the conference, which also served as the 69th Annual Brucellosis Research Meeting of the International Brucellosis Society.
As chair of the society, Sriranganathan worked with Ramesh Vemulapalli of Texas A&M University; H. Rahman, deputy director general of Indian Council of Agricultural Research; and S. R. Rao and P. Singh from the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, in organizing this event. At the conference, in addition to keynote addresses and scientific presentations, a $30 million prize competition for developing the best next generation vaccine for sheep and goats against brucellosis was launched by an international consortium.
Waldrop, who is also the past president of the veterinary college’s Graduate Student Association, received second place for best poster in his session, Control and Eradication. His poster, titled “Rough Brucella neotomae and Brucella suis over-expressing GnRH and FSH: A novel Brucella immunocontraceptive vaccine,” contained highlights from his dissertation.
Under advisor Sriranganathan, Waldrop’s dissertation research attempts to create a dual-purpose vaccine against brucellosis and immunocontraception to control feral swine population. “Brucellosis is a world-wide problem for agriculture while posing a huge public health risk. It is caused by bacteria from the genus Brucella and can cause abortion in animals while causing undulant fever in humans,” explained Waldrop. “This vaccine is specifically designed to be used in wildlife management, as wildlife in the USA are reservoirs of Brucella and can spread the disease to both humans and domestic animals.”
Brucellosis, which is spread to humans through consumption of contaminated, unpasteurized dairy products or contact with infected animal secretions and tissues, causes $1.5 billion in damage to the agricultural industry each year and is a major research area at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. “The vaccine I am developing combines both immunocontraception and protection against brucellosis,” said Waldrop.
India is a brucellosis endemic country, providing an appropriate venue for Waldrop and others to explore new findings about the disease. “I took many great lessons from the conference, but I think the most notable was observing and learning how research on the international level functions. There were many new findings presented at the conference that can aid in my understanding of the bacteria I work with,” Waldrop explained.
The conference also sparked an interest for international travel for Waldrop. “From the moment of boarding the double decker airplane, my world began to change around me. I literally felt like I was living in a movie as I toured the iconic Golden Triangle, which includes the Taj Mahal. Each day brought to light new experiences and opened my eyes to new and exciting things,” he said. “Ultimately, Brucellosis 2016 was a huge success and opened my eyes even further to the many blessing we live with daily, while producing great international friendships, advancing my knowledge, and adding fuel to my desire to travel the world one day.”
Waldrop, who begins the DVM portion of his studies this fall, hopes to first work at a mixed animal practice before working in public health or disease surveillance for the U.S. government after graduating in 2021.