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UCF Scientist Aims to Detect Animal-Borne Diseases Using Nanotechnology

A researcher from the University of Central Florida (UCF) will be directing a new project that will use nanotechnology to further research activities involved in the detection and alleviation of emerging animal-borne contagious diseases.

UCF Scientist Aims to Detect Animal-Borne Diseases Using Nanotechnology.
Laurene Tetard is an associate professor in the Department of Physics and a researcher with the Nanoscience Technology Center. (Image Credit: University of Central Florida).

The project is backed by a $50,000 grant from the national philanthropic foundation Research Corporation for Science Advancement and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The funding is part of an initiative known as Scialog Mitigating Zoonotic Threats. Scialog is the acronym for “science and dialog.”

Zoonotic threats are those diseases that are directly spread from animals, such as mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever and the West Nile virus. The source of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is still under deliberation, but it is likely that animal origin means additional attention has to be given to zoonotic diseases — as well as to look out for new ones that could surface in the future.

In the first year of a three-year program, the initiative will pay attention to launching new research identification, diagnosis, mechanisms and inhibition of emerging zoonotic disease pathogenesis. The program has awarded $50,000 grants to 25 researchers from across the country. The goal is to build an interdisciplinary community to accelerate research of zoonotic threats.

Laurene Tetard, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and researcher with the Nanoscience Technology Center, is one of the 25 awardees. Her team studies nanoscale imaging and spectroscopy. Being a part of the new initiative, they will be examining replacement options for the existing honey-bait card used to capture pathogens found in the saliva of mosquitoes.

During a Scialog meet conducted this fall, Tetard’s team was able to gather a lot of information from various authorities in the field.

There is a huge gap between the state-of-the-art technology being developed in nanotechnology and the technology currently available for tracking potential threats from animals.

Laurene Tetard, Associate Professor, Department of Physics, University of Central Florida

At present, the process to assess threats from mosquitoes can be a laborious process that includes arranging huge traps, identifying the mosquitoes and performing molecular assays on them to establish possible pathogens they host, Tetard says.

The scientist and her team, with the help of professionals in nanomaterial designs and from the USDA, aim to create an active material that will change color if pathogens present. Such an innovation would considerably minimize the work involved in mosquito capturing and filter which samples will host probable pathogens to examine.

The grant will aid her team in a project with real-world applications in the months ahead. Tetard says she is very thankful to be a part of the initiative and desires to share this opportunity with other scientists and students who are interested.

We are really at the beginning of this idea. We have to build everything. The opportunity to apply our expertise to a field of research that could benefit from smarter sensors, better fundamental understanding of the response of pathogens to their environments, or to new treatments is very exciting.

Laurene Tetard, Associate Professor, Department of Physics, University of Central Florida

Tetard continued, “I am very thankful to be part of the Scialog team on this topic, and I hope that this first step will lead to more ideas to prepare us for new unknown biological threats.”

Tetard did her doctorate in physics from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and joined UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center and Department of Physics, part of UCF’s College of Sciences, in 2013.

She also has been a beneficiary of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s CAREER grant, an award bestowed to early career researchers and engineers with high promise of heading highly important advances in their particular fields and who will serve as role models in the academic community.

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