Luca Fund Supported Research
How your donations are applied to FIP Research at Glasgow University Veterinary Diagnostic Services
The Luca Fund provides much needed support for a number of research initiatives at the University of Glasgow which investigate feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and its causal pathogen, feline coronavirus.
Studies are ongoing in two main areas:
The first is a data-driven study, aimed at improving diagnostic testing based on information from the standard laboratory tests used to diagnose FIP. Usually, a panel of blood tests from a suspect cat is used when investigating a possible case of FIP. However, the result of no one single test is conclusive, and diagnosis is usually reached by interpreting these test results as a group. Through decades of diagnostic testing, the Veterinary Diagnostic Services at the University of Glasgow have data from thousands of cats, which they are statistically analysing to look for ‘signature’ patterns among the results which can either rule-in or rule-out FIP as a diagnosis. The researchers have been making good progress in this area and have developed a computerised pattern recognition system which can look at an individual cat’s test results and determine whether he/she has FIP or not, with the same level of accuracy as an expert veterinary pathologist. Ultimately, the hope is that this approach will help standardise and improve the ability of veterinarians to diagnose, and equally importantly, rule-out FIP in the future.
The second main area of investigation is the transmission of feline coronavirus at the local and national scale. The Covid-19 pandemic has raised questions about the potential role of cats and other companion animals in the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes Covid-19. Thankfully, the evidence strongly indicates that pet animals are not involved in the pandemic. Feline coronavirus, which causes enteric infection and FIP in cats, belongs to a different coronavirus family than the Covid-19 virus and is effectively unrelated. So, while the evidence indicates cats play no role in the transmission in the current pandemic, it would be useful to know for the future how coronavirus spreads within the cat population. In particular, this study will provide new information on how feline coronavirus is spread within multi-cat households, which will generate much needed baseline information on local transmission cycles. This in turn will increase knowledge of the epidemiology of FIP, which is currently poorly understood.
Research update – September 2022.
While the last couple of years has been a challenging period, it has also highlighted the strength of our animal-loving community. Despite the fact the Covid-19 pandemic has brought unimaginable challenges, EndFIP® and the Luca Fund for FIP Research have found creative ways to ensure that our efforts to end FIP are moving forward. We are heartened that the work we started to help domestic cats is dovetailing to help other species. The following paragraphs speak to some of the inspiring and innovative initiatives we are undertaking to ensure that every cat across the globe continues to roar, grow and thrive.
FIP Research at the University of Glasgow
Research efforts at the Veterinary Diagnostic Service laboratory at the University of Glasgow, funded by EndFIP® and the Luca Fund for FIP Research, are ongoing. A large-scale study into using computer-aided decision-making to help in diagnosing the dry form of FIP has now been completed. In this collaborative study involving clinicians, data scientists, and laboratory specialists, a machine learning approach was utilized to address this long-standing problem. The diagnosis of FIP currently requires the subjective assessment and integration of results from multiple tests. Recent work in the laboratory has created a series of highly incisive predictive computer models using data from thousands of suspected cases over a period of two decades. The ability to rapidly and accurately diagnose this condition has now become of critical importance. In the last two years, antiviral drugs developed for human treatment have been licensed for veterinary use in several countries and these have proven highly effective in curing cats with this usually fatal disease. With successful treatment being dependent on rapid and accurate diagnosis, improvements in FIP testing will allow the rapid instigation of treatment where appropriate, thus alleviating the pain and suffering otherwise associated with this disease.
In addition to investigating the genetic diversity of feline coronavirus, which causes FIP, research work within the laboratory is now also focusing on examining the diversity of ferret coronavirus. Ferrets can suffer from a syndrome that is very similar to FIP and which is caused by ferret coronavirus, which is genetically very closely related to feline coronavirus. This virus can also cause a severe intestinal infection which can pass among ferrets. Building on our efforts to sequence and understand feline coronavirus diversity among the cat population, we are now using high-throughput sequencing equipment, purchased with the support of EndFIP® and the Luca Fund, to undertake a parallel study of ferret coronavirus. This will allow us to compare viral populations to gain greater insight into the evolution of this large family of companion animal viruses.
Collaboration with the Cheetah Conservation Fund
The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) is a charitable organization based in Africa that undertakes a range of activities to help conserve cheetahs. In collaboration with various partners, one of the aspects of their work is to care for cheetahs rescued from the illegal pet trade. The CCF provides safe houses and veterinary care for large numbers of young cheetahs, many of which have been rescued from distressing circumstances. Similar to domestic cats, cheetahs can be infected by feline coronavirus and can develop feline infectious peritonitis. The CCF veterinary team, which comprises veterinary surgeons and research scientists, is collaborating with the University of Glasgow Veterinary Diagnostic Service to investigate the distribution of the virus and incidence of FIP in the rescued cheetah population while in safe-house accommodation. This involves screening incoming and resident cheetahs for evidence of exposure to coronavirus and monitoring viral shedding in infected cheetahs.
Establishing and maintaining a feline coronavirus-free environment and population is extremely challenging in a rescue center setting such as this. Efforts are directed towards qPCR testing of cheetah fecal samples to investigate carriage of the virus in housed/rescued animals, in an attempt to minimize the risk of FIP, which is a major concern in these animals. VDS is engaged in the ongoing testing of cheetah samples, which takes considerable technical time and resources. This important work is necessary to allow the CCF to optimize management practices and make the best use of their resources in order to reduce the risk of disease in this critical feline species. EndFIP® and the Luca Fund support non-invasive research into FIP and are funding these ongoing activities.
Please contact us by email at email@example.com if you would like to discuss your giving or if you have questions about the research progress you make possible.
Research update – July 2021.
Through the strong, ongoing support of the Luca Fund, we have been able to advance our research work in both in data-driven FIP diagnostics and the epidemiology of the underlying pathogen, feline coronavirus. We are currently extending our ‘machine learning’ diagnostic algorithm to assist in the diagnosis of wet FIP, building on our work on the dry form of the disease, with encouraging results. Because of our central role as a feline diagnostic virology laboratory, our research group has been collaborating in broader efforts to understand the role of cats in the Covid-19 pandemic. While we have found evidence of rare human-to-cat transmission events, we find no evidence of the virus transmitting in the other direction. By analysing the genetic code of the virus, we and others have confirmed that, as suspected, there is no recombination between FCoV and SARS-CoV-2 as the viruses belong to quite different groups. Our work on FCoV genetic diversity and epidemiology has also taken a major step forward.
The Luca Fund has allowed us to invest in ‘in-house’ genome-sequencing equipment, which means we will be able to study the virus genetic code in our own laboratory.
The Covid-19 pandemic has put coronavirus firmly at the top of the priority list in countries around the world, and this can only be a good thing for driving forward research on under-studied pathogens such as FCoV. The speed at which safe and effective coronavirus vaccines and therapies have been developed is nothing short of remarkable and this provides optimism for what can be achieved in the feline field given sufficient support.
Professor Willie Weir
Academic Head of Infectious Disease
University of Glasgow Veterinary Diagnostic Services.
“The degree of loving is measured by the degree of giving.”
Edwin Louis Cole
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About the Luca Fund for FIP Research: The Luca Fund for FIP Research is part of the global vision of the EndFIP® project. Your donation to the Luca Fund will be applied to studies conducted at the University of Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine. The Luca Fund for FIP research is a special fund of the American Alumni of the University of Glasgow established in 2018 to accept tax-deductible donations for Feline Infectious Peritonitis research. AAGU has been recognized by the IRS as a section 501(c) (3) charitable organization. All donations to AAGU are deductible as charitable contributions to the full extent permitted by law.