Lijuan Yuan of Blacksburg, Va., assistant professor of virology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, received the prestigious Pfizer Award for Research Excellence at the college’s 23rd Annual Research Symposium on Friday, Sept. 30.

“Dr. Yuan’s excellent research program is helping generate important knowledge about public health issues and has the potential for new vaccine development and drug therapies for humans,” said Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, dean of the veterinary college.

The Pfizer award, established in 1985, is a nationally recognized award sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health, a division of healthcare giant, Pfizer Inc. The purpose of this award is to “foster innovative research, on which the scientific advancement of the profession depends, by recognizing outstanding research effort and productivity.”

Yuan is an expert on rotaviruses, which are a common cause of acute dehydrating diarrhea in infants and young children and other young animals worldwide, and noroviruses, which cause most of the epidemic nonbacterial outbreaks of gastroenteritis around the world. Her laboratory is working to develop and improve rotavirus and norovirus vaccines. She studies the interactions between intestinal microbes and the mucosal immune system to reveal the mechanisms behind the immune-stimulating effect of specific probiotic Lactobacilli strains — beneficial bacteria found in yogurt and other foods — on rotavirus vaccines.

Yuan’s lab also investigates human norovirus pathogenesis and immunity and evaluates novel norovirus vaccines in gnotobiotic, or germfree, pigs.

Yuan earned a diploma in pharmaceutics from Beijing Health School, a diploma in biochemistry from Beijing University, and a master’s degree in immunology and virology from the Capital Institute of Pediatrics in Beijing, China. She completed a doctorate in immunology and virology from The Ohio State University and postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

In addition to the awards ceremony, the Research Symposium featured keynote speaker Dr. Michael T. Collins, professor in the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Collins, who has taught veterinary bacteriology for the past 30 years, has focused his research on Johne’s disease since the early 1980s. Johne’s disease, or paratuberculosis, is a contagious and sometimes fatal illness that affects mostly ruminant animals.

Collins has written numerous scientific and lay publications on Johne’s disease and served as president of the International Association for Paratuberculosis for more than a decade. He has received teaching awards at the school and university levels and is the principal author of the Johne’s Information Center website. Over his academic career, Collins has taken four year-long sabbaticals for study in Denmark, Australia, the Netherlands, and most recently, Chile as a Fulbright Scholar.

To learn more about the Research Symposium, visit the college’s website.

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