Two White-Nose Syndrome Studies Funded at Tufts Veterinary School

Research and Clinical Scientists to Collaborate on Study of Disease Responsible for Killing 1 Million+ Bats
December 9, 2010

For More Information or to Request a Photo from this News Release, Contact:

Tara Pettinato

GRAFTON, Mass. -- Researchers at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine have received funding for two new studies to investigate White Nose Syndrome, a little-understood fungal infection that has killed more than a million bats in the United States and Canada. These grants bring the number of White Nose studies underway at the school to three.

All three studies involve collaboration between Research Assistant Professor Alison Robbins, DVM, wildlife veterinarian in the school’s Department of Environmental and Population Health with an expertise in infectious wildlife diseases, and Research Associate Professor Donna Akiyoshi, PhD, a molecular biologist in the Department of Biomedical Science’s Division of Infectious Diseases. Drs. Akiyoshi and Robbins are currently collaborating to develop a rapid field diagnostic for the disease, with funding from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

In the first new study, which is a one-year grant funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Tufts researchers will collaborate with Dr. Hilary Morrison of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) to study the messenger RNA molecules in bats to identify genes that are activated during the infection process and that may lead to susceptibility to the disease. Morrison, an Associate Research Scientist who manages the MBL’s Keck Evolutionary Genetics Facility, will assist with the genetic analysis for the study.

The second new study, a collaboration with Tufts Wildlife Clinic Director Flo Tseng, DVM, Tufts School of Medicine’s Michael Court, BVSc, PhD and collaborators at Bucknell and Cornell Universities, seeks to determine whether treatment with antifungal medications will increase survival of WNS infected little brown bats.. Court, an assistant professor at the medical school’s Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, will assist with the trials of the drug.

“White Nose Syndrome has decimated bat populations in the Northeast, and our job as researchers is to determine just how to keep these vital components of the ecosystem safe and thriving,” said Dr. Robbins. “These three studies, we hope, will contribute to the greater body of work to understand this devastating disease and allow bats to rebound.”

“Time is of the essence with these studies, as bat populations are being decimated by White Nose Syndrome,” added Dr. Akiyoshi. “We have assembled a strong, multidisciplinary group of scientists with the necessary expertise to tackle some of the challenging questions that remain about the disease.”

About the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine Founded in 1978 in North Grafton, Mass., the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University is known for academic programs that impact society and the practice of veterinary medicine; five hospitals that see more than 80,000 cases each year; and groundbreaking research that benefits animal, public, and environmental health.