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Veterinary Biocontained facility Network for excellence in animal infectiology research and experimentation

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - VetBioNet (Veterinary Biocontained facility Network for excellence in animal infectiology research and experimentation)

Reporting period: 2017-03-01 to 2018-08-31

VetBioNet seeks to strengthen the European capacity and competence to meet the challenges of emerging infectious disease outbreaks by establishing a comprehensive network of European BSL3 infrastructures, academic institutes, industries and international organisations.
To reach this overall objective, the Activities of VetBioNet are dedicated to:
• Opening the VetBioNet infrastructure resources to external users by providing Transnational Access (TNA) to BSL3 animal experimental facilities and laboratories, technological platforms, and sample collections.
• New scientific and technological developments.
• Enhanced preparedness of the major European BSL3 research infrastructures that will allow a swift response to (re-)emerging epizootic and zoonotic threats.
• Harmonization of Best Practices and a larger use of global standards in European BSL3 infrastructures.
• Determining the social impact deriving from VetBioNet activities.
• Establishing a sustainability plan that will allow VetBioNet to offer its services beyond the project duration.
• Providing improved scientific and technological standards for the services offered by the VetBioNet infrastructures.
A VetBioNet website has been created and is operational since May 2017. During the period, the website had 48.852 unique visitors with 267.872 pages visited. A project communication package including logos, posters, leaflets and presentation templates was created. Two short videos targeting veterinary laboratories and the general public were published on YouTube.
A web-based interface to submit and manage TNA services has been launched. Within 8 months’ time, 18 applications have been received and evaluated by a User Selection Panel (USP), consisting of independent and highly experienced scientists from various scientific disciplines. A specifically established TNA access point (TNA-AP) warrants a centralized application and management platform as interface between users and service providers. The VetBioNet website, social media, presentations or information stands at national/international meetings were used as means to brief the research community on the opportunities, modalities and conditions of TNA services provided by VetBioNet.
The “Veterinary Emerging Threat Response Group” (VETRG) has been set up as a consultation group to deliberate on the project’s means to respond to imminent and/or predictable emerging epizootic and zoonotic infectious disease threats at European level (Preparedness plan). Links with European/international networks and organisations and industrial stakeholders have been forged.
Considerable progress has been made in the harmonisation of best practices for operating BSL3 facilities on the basis of international standards. This VetBioNet topic now occupies a dedicated area on the International Veterinary Biosafety Workgroup (IVBW) website for promoting exchanges with the scientific community. Workshops have been held on the CEN CWA 15793 standard and the steps needed to comply with this standard.
The first version of the Transparency and Stakeholder Engagement Strategy, and resources related to specific ethical issues and 3Rs, as well as training resources and events have been developed.
Engagement with stakeholders and identification of funding opportunities has started as part of the investigation to sustain VetBioNet activities and tools beyond the current term of funding (2022). .
Joint Research Activities (JRAs) for the development of in vivo infection models have been dedicated to: (i) the standardization of an ovine model for PPRV; (ii) the development of a reservoir pathogen model in Alpaca for MERS-CoV; (iii) the improvement of ferret aerosol models to study airborne Influenza virus infections; (iv) the optimisation of salmonid and cyprinid models for the study of fish viruses (SCVS, IPNV, VHSV, IHNV). Considerable progress has been made in the the development of alternative in vitro infection models : (i) testing an in ovo (embryonated chicken egg) model to predict the pathogenicity of NDV strains; (ii) development of a chicken B cell culture model for IBDV; (iii) development of protocols for the preparation of avian endothelial cells, avian and bovine precision-cut lung slices, porcine nasal mucosa explants and pig and rabbit mesenchymal stem cells.
Tools to analyse high-risk infections are being developed. Analyses of the bovine and avian transcriptomes have been initiated using 2 state-of-the art platforms (Nanostring, Fluidigm). Ovine MHC I and II sequencing platforms are being developed, along with porcine B-cell and T-cell receptor analysis pipelines. Approaches to virus deep-sequencing (Foot-and-Mouth-Disease virus) as well as host microbiome (porcine) have been developed and applied. Development of reagents to enable construction of RHDV serotyping ELISAS, as well as ELISAS to track salmonid viral infections have been progressing successfully.
Instrumentation and software for surveying relevant physiological parameters are being developed. A questionnaire was set out among partners to prioritize parameters to be measured and monitored and technical conditions to take into
VetBioNet TNA activities consist in providing free-of-charge access to BSL3 facilities and technical resources of the consortium. The call is permanent and project proposals are promptly handled by the VetBioNet TNA-APJRAs aim at improving the scientific and technical standards of the services provided by the consortium’s infrastructures. Some JRAs will develop and optimise livestock infection models for a number of high-impact epizootic and zoonotic diseases. Other JRAs will advance the state-of-the-art of the current analytical, telemetric or bioimaging approaches in animal infectious disease research. Five private partners are directly involved in the VetBioNet JRAs, thus permitting technologic development at an advanced Technology Readiness Level and potentially commercialisation of project outputs. Collectively, the VetBioNet TNA activities and JRAs will help to increase the competiveness of the participating infrastructures and to advance the European research and R&D agenda related to epizootic and zoonotic diseases.
The overall goal of the Networking Activities (NAs) is to foster the cooperation between the consortium partners and forge cooperative relationships with other European or international research initiatives, industrial stakeholders, international organizations and policy makers. A Preparedness Plan has been implemented to establish VetBioNet as a central player in the European emergency response to infectious diseases. Concerted action by the VETRG is crucial to warrant a swift and efficient response of the consortium, especially at the present time when the EU is threatened by high-impact epizootic and/or zoonotic diseases such as African swine fever and West Nile fever. VetBioNet NAs addressing Best Practices and the harmonisation of protocols will help advancing the biosafety standards in high-containment facilities and may inform EU guidelines and regulations. NAs aiming to ensure high ethical standards and clarify the social impact of VetBioNet activities provide an ambitious and unique approach to map and positively alter the public perception of animal infectious disease research.
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