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Vet Med Student Earns African Swine Fever Research Fellowship
Kansas Ag Connection - 07/22/2021

Jayden McCall, third-year veterinary student in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, is one of 14 students selected nationally for a Veterinary Student Research Fellowship to Address Global Challenges in Food and Agriculture.

The fellowship, which includes a $10,000 stipend for mentored research, is through the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research in partnership with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. The program invests in future veterinarians and provides the opportunity to pursue research on agricultural productivity, public health and environmental sustainability. Veterinarians trained in these areas are key to addressing many real-world challenges.

McCall's research project focuses on African swine fever virus, which causes a highly contagious and deadly disease of swine for which there is no vaccine. He is identifying protective antigens, viral proteins that induce a protective immune response in the body, within the virus's genome. This information is critical to developing an efficient vaccine against the virus, a tool that will greatly benefit global pork producers.

McCall's research mentor is Waithaka Mwangi, professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

"Jayden is a hardworking and highly motivated student," Mwangi said. "He has potential to make significant contributions to African swine fever virus vaccine development efforts as judged by his selection to receive this national award. The award committee mentioned that he was 'selected as one of the most promising among a group of veterinary students interested in pursuing wide-ranging research across the agricultural and veterinary sciences.'"

McCall, who is from Valley Center, is currently working with Mwangi through K-State's Veterinary Research Scholars Program, an annual summer program that provides veterinary students with in-depth, hands-on research opportunities with experienced faculty mentors. The program's goal is to motivate students toward a research-focused career, with many of its students pursuing research related to food and agriculture.

"I began working with Dr. Mwangi almost two years ago and was immediately interested in the research done in his lab group," McCall said. "Always having had an interest in immunology and vaccine development, this project has been a great way to dive deeper into the subject and gain hands-on experience in the techniques needed to perform this work. I applied for the FFAR Fellowship because African swine fever virus has had a massive impact on the global pork industry."

As part of the three-month fellowship, McCall will attend the National Veterinary Scholars Symposium in August.

"Jayden has been an exemplary student in the Veterinary Research Scholars Program and we are very proud of him for being named a Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research fellow this summer," said Kate KuKanich, director of the scholars program and a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine. "His work with Dr. Mwangi to develop an African swine fever vaccine will benefit swine health and food safety globally, and we are grateful to the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges as this fellowship will further strengthen his potential for future impactful research."

McCall said the production of an effective vaccine against this virus has never been more needed and would provide great security to pork producers around the world.

"Upon graduation with my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in two years, I plan to finish my doctoral training with Dr. Mwangi and then continue to pursue development of therapies and vaccines against African swine fever virus and other infectious diseases affecting animal health."


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