Raymond "Bob" Rowland, Kansas State University professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine, has created a way to protect swine offspring from the devastating PRRS virus during reproduction.
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) virus costs the US pork industry more than $600 million in losses every year. Kansas State Univ. researcher Raymond "Bob" Rowland, Ph.D., is working to eradicate this devastating swine disease.

The PRRS virus can cause swine disease in two different forms: a respiratory form that weakens young pigs' ability to breathe and a more severe reproductive form that causes mass deaths in pigs during late pregnancy, according to Rowland’s research.

Rowland, professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine at KSU, has created a way to protect offspring from the PRRS virus during pregnancy. According to his study, swine mothers without the CD163 protein are resistant to the PRRS virus and give birth to healthy, normal piglets. Rowland’s research appears in Nature's Scientific Reports.

"We have created a protective shell against the PRRS virus during the reproductive phase of production," Rowland said. "The offspring does not become infected during pregnancy and is born a healthy piglet. During this critical phase of production, we have essentially ended a disease."

Rowland has spent more than 20 years studying the PRRS virus. "The reproductive form not only has a tremendous economic impact, but also a psychological impact on people who work with pigs," he explained. "When we look at ways to control this disease, it really begins with reproduction. We want to keep this disease out of the reproductive process and we have found a way to do that."

The research can save swine producers millions of dollars because the animals are protected from the PRRS virus during the critical reproductive process, Rowland said. However, offspring may still be susceptible to the disease later in life.

"This is one tool that we can use," Rowland said. "It doesn't mean that we can give up on vaccines or diagnostics, but it does create more opportunities for other tools to become more effective. Because this pig is born healthy, it will respond better to a vaccine or a diagnostic test. We are enhancing other aspects of disease control as well."

Rowland is presenting his research at the 2017 North American PRRS Symposium in Chicago Dec. 1-3.

Other KSU researchers involved in the project include Maureen Kerrigan, laboratory research manager, and Luca Popescu, doctoral student and research assistant.