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Huge grant to Vet School for animal welfare

Press release issued: 17 May 2004

Bristol University's Vet School is one of only four Veterinary Schools in the UK to share a total grant worth £21.5m.

Bristol University’s Vet School is one of only four Veterinary Schools in the UK to share a total grant worth £21.5m.  Bristol’s share of the spoils will be £3.6m. The group will use the funds to investigate what triggers infections and allergies in farm animals.

Over the next five years Professor Tom Humphrey and Dr Mick Bailey from the University’s School of Clinical Veterinary  Science will lead a research programme to look at how the environment affects an animal’s susceptibility to disease. 

The programme will consist of a number of elements. In collaboration with colleagues at the Institute for Animal Health and the Institute of Food Research, they will investigate how an  animal’s immune system is affected by the ‘good’ bacteria in its gut. If the animal is kept in a germ-free environment, its immune system may not be sufficiently challenged and consequently will not develop properly, rendering it more susceptible to infection.

Another component of the research will be to observe how animals cope with stress and how this affects their immune systems and susceptibility to infection. This component of the programme will be led by Professor Christine Nicol and Dr Mike Mendl, also based at the Bristol Vet School, and will allow the team to develop strategies of how to avoid stress and prevent conflict between individuals.

Finally the team will look at the route by which infections such as those caused by Salmonella are transmitted. Conventional belief is that infections are acquired orally, but increasingly it is believed they can also be airborne.  The team’s early research has shown that 100 airborne cells can have the same effect as 100 million cells transmitted orally.

Professor Humphrey said: “We are very excited about this grant as it confirms the importance of the University of Bristol as a centre for the study of the infectious diseases of farm animals. This funding will allow us to develop better welfare conditions for animals and reduce the amount of disease they contract and transmit.”

An additional element of the grant will be to foster research training at veterinary schools by providing funding for postdoctoral assistants and PhD studentships. Dr Mick Bailey said: “There is also money for sixth-form studentships so that we can pay students to come here in the summer holidays and spend four weeks in the laboratory. This way we hope to encourage them to apply for a place at the vet school and do research, rather than go into practice.”

Announcing details of the programme the Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Debbie Reynolds, said the funding would enable the next generation of veterinary graduates to provide the scientific evidence to help inform the Department's policies.

"Each project includes collaboration with other research institutes and universities. A wide variety of research training opportunities will be offered for veterinary undergraduates, graduates and for veterinary scientists with an interest in animal health research," she said.

Bristol’s collaborators will be the Institute of Animal Health, the Institute of Food Research and the Health Protection Agency. The funding has come from Defra and the Higher Education Funding Councils.
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