John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, today announced that the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense (FAZD) received $2 million in federal funds from the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate to develop a disease-surveillance technology designed to protect U.S. animal agriculture from potentially catastrophic outbreaks of infectious pathogens. The project has the potential for a total $9 million investment over a three-year period.
The FAZD Center technology – known as the Enhanced Passive Surveillance (EPS) system – captures field information from veterinarians about livestock and poultry health in real-time. The information is then organized into an easy-to-use computer display for monitoring and analysis, combining it with other data coming from veterinary diagnostic laboratories, wildlife testing and livestock markets. During a disease outbreak, the EPS system will improve the ability of emergency managers, state animal health officials and veterinarians to respond to situations as they develop.
“Ultimately, the EPS system will help to defend our food supply and to protect our animal agriculture industries and public health,” Sharp said. “This technology also demonstrates how highly targeted, university-level research can lead to practical products that benefit our economy and our security.”
The newly funded effort will roll out the EPS system to all major U.S. animal industries: beef cattle, dairy cattle, small ruminants (sheep and goats), poultry, swine and equine. In addition, the EPS system will collect data about wildlife (e.g., deer, feral swine, and wild birds) from veterinarians, veterinary and wildlife diagnostic laboratories, wildlife biologists, and wildlife organizations.
The system is planned for expansion to 15 U.S. states based on the geographical distribution of each industry to obtain a representative cross-section of participants. The system is currently being utilized in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona.
Mark A. Hussey, vice chancellor and dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said, “The expansion of the EPS system is a major milestone for the FAZD Center. By taking the EPS system to 15 U.S. states, the FAZD Center cements its reputation as an innovative and productive organization with a truly national scope.”
Funding comes from the Homeland Security Advanced Research Products Agency (HSARPA), a pillar within the Science and Technology Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS S&T). The project builds upon a nine-month pilot program in New Mexico and Texas that was funded by HSARPA and resulted in a prototype EPS system that was deployed on a small scale. The United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS), also funded an expansion of the pilot program to include the state of Colorado.
“The EPS seedling project succeeded because so many parties came to the table to collaborate,” said DHS S&T Agriculture Defense Branch Chief Michelle Colby, DVM. “Because we were able to see concrete results in such a short time frame, we were able to expand the project.”
The beauty of the EPS system is that it captures information about more than just foreign animal diseases, FAZD Center Director Tammy Beckham said. “This system has the potential to have a major impact on the detection of and response to endemic and emerging diseases, helping to meet the daily herd and flock health needs of our livestock and poultry industries,” Dr. Beckham said.
The EPS system is based on AgConnect, the FAZD Center’s suite of customizable data integration and analysis products designed to enhance real-time data awareness in the event of emerging, zoonotic and/or high consequence diseases. FAZD Center investigators worked with the Texas Center Applied Technology (TCAT, a member of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station) to jointly develop the AgConnect suite. This partnership between agriculture and engineering has been a successful collaboration between two agencies under the Texas A&M University System.
Through a suite of customized iPad apps, the EPS system allows veterinarians in the field to capture vital health information about the animals under their care. The app then transmits the information to a common operating picture, called the EPS analyst workstation, where AgConnect technology integrates and aggregates the data into a real-time, interactive, highly visual display that may be shared among veterinarians, industry personnel, and analysts at multiple locations. Data are analyzed using automated visual, geospatial, and temporal analysis tools within the workstation that aid in early disease detection or changes in animal health status. The EPS system also provides valuable information back to veterinarians regarding animal health in their state or geographic region, providing access to a unique information source that enhances their situational awareness and aids in animal disease diagnosis and treatment.
“We plan to develop new apps on multiple mobile platforms that are customized to serve specific industries as we continue to incorporate tools to support and enhance industry production practices. With the cooperation of participating state animal health officials, the FAZD Center plans to deploy EPS analyst workstations in participating states and train the designated analysts who will use the system,” Beckham said.
Headquartered at Texas A&M, the FAZD Center performs research and develops products to defend the United States from high-consequence foreign animal and zoonotic diseases that may harm the animal agriculture economy, damage the food supply and threaten public health. These diseases may be introduced intentionally or through natural processes. Examples include avian influenza, foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever and Rift Valley fever.
The FAZD Center is a DHS Science and Technology Center of Excellence founded in 2004 through the DHS Office of University Programs. Within the Texas A&M System, the Center reports to Texas A&M AgriLife Research, the state’s premier research agency in agriculture, natural resources, and life sciences. As a component of AgriLife Research, the Center conducts basic and applied research and education to protect the nation’s livestock and public health sectors.
“This is a significant example of the success that can be achieved when two agencies combine the talents of their researchers,” said M. Katherine Banks, vice chancellor and dean of Texas A&M Engineering. “Through the delivery of precise, timely information to key stakeholders, they are able to make a better decision faster, which is crucial in mitigating the impact of an emerging animal disease outbreak.”
About the A&M System
The A&M System is one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation, with a budget of $3.8 billion. Through a statewide network of 11 universities, seven state agencies, two service units and a comprehensive health science center, the A&M System educates more than 125,000 students and makes more than 22 million additional educational contacts through service and outreach programs each year. Externally funded research expenditures exceed $780 million and help drive the state’s economy.
The FAZD Center
The Texas A&M University System
Steven B. Moore