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Walt Cook Coordinates Brucellosis Research Within UW, Other Universities

June 7, 2010
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Walt Cook

Walt Cook has been hired to coordinate brucellosis research within the University of Wyoming and among several universities across the country where research is being conducted.

He assists UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Dean Frank Galey in his role as chairman of the Wyoming Brucellosis Coordination Team and the Consortium for the Advancement of Brucellosis Science (CABS). Research priorities are vaccine development (for both cattle and wildlife) and improved diagnostic tests for the bacterial disease.

Exciting research is being conducted at UW and elsewhere, says Cook, but that research is hampered by lack of funding and lack of facilities for large animal brucellosis trials.

"Brucella abortus, the causative agent of brucellosis, is considered a Select Agent," says Cook, "meaning it has potential for use in bioterrorism. With this status come severe restrictions for its use; any research done using the field strain must be conducted under very tight security. The new biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) addition to the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory will allow research using rodent models to be completed in Laramie."

Cook said Assistant Professor Gerry Andrews and his team in the Department of Veterinary Sciences have developed good vaccine candidates and, with the completion of the lab, will be able to try them on mouse models. If successful, the vaccines would then be tried on cattle, elk or bison.

This work would need to be conducted elsewhere in facilities that can hold these large animals and still comply with the BSL-3 requirements of working with B. abortus.

"That is where the coordination comes in," says Cook. "The other big issue is funding. Although vaccine trials using lab mice can be conducted relatively cheaply, studies using large animals under BSL-3 conditions are very expensive. Brucellosis is a chronic disease; this means any studies must be long-term to be realistic. This also adds to the expense of the studies."

CABS is dedicated to finding additional brucellosis funding sources and funneling those resources to the most appropriate areas, he said.

The brucellosis coordination concentrates on reducing the risk of transmission from wildlife to cattle with currently available techniques, saysCook. For more information about the brucellosis coordination team, see

Cook worked as assistant state veterinarian and state veterinarian for the Wyoming Livestock Board before coming to UW. He had previously worked as a wildlife veterinarian for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

He received his bachelor's degree from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and his doctorate of veterinary medicine degree in 1994 from the University of California, Davis. After veterinary school, Cook earned his Ph.D. in zoology and physiology from UW in 1999 studying epizootiology and control of brucellosis in elk under the late Professor Elizabeth Williams.

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