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Camila Dias Colberg

Animal disease research opportunity proves to be rewarding assignment for graduate student

Camila Dias Colberg

Camila Dias Colberg is supporting research at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center to find a more effective treatment for foot-and-mouth disease. A Brazilian veterinarian, she hopes one day to be a licensed veterinarian in the United States. Click image to enlarge.

The impact of foot-and-mouth disease hit home for Camila Dias Colberg in 2005 while working on her master’s degree at the University of Vicosa in her native Brazil.

“I remember as part of my master’s program I was preparing to teach an undergraduate class about foot-and-mouth disease,” Colberg recalled. “The day before I was to teach this class, Brazil had an outbreak (of the disease), and many animals were slaughtered.”

Now a veterinarian, Colberg is focused on finding ways to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease as a participant in the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) Research Participation Program, which is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Technology and supported by the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Foot-and-mouth disease, also referred to as FMD, is an infectious and sometimes fatal disease that infects cloven-hoofed animals, such as cattle and pigs. Under the supervision of mentor Dr. Marvin J. Grubman, Colberg and other members of her team are trying to develop and improve methods to quickly control FMD through advanced vaccines.

“The impact of an FMD outbreak obviously negatively affects the food supply for a country,” said Colberg. “However, an outbreak also can have a devastating economic impact resulting from direct and indirect costs associated with trade restrictions, loss of animals, and decrease in animal productivity.”

Current conventional vaccines can be effective, but it takes seven days after the initial vaccination before the protection takes hold, according to Colberg. “During this seven-day window, animals can still be infected,” she said. “Our focus is on developing an approach that can more rapidly protect animals against infection.”

One research possibility that is showing some promising results is the combination of interferon, a protein produced by cells in response to a viral infection, and vaccines.

Using this approach, Colberg says that swine are usually protected within one day of treatment.

“We believe that the combination of vaccine and interferon can fully protect animals against FMD,” Colberg said.

Her participation in the PIADC program has meant a lot to Colberg.

“I am growing as a veterinarian scientist, and I am constantly learning," she said. “It has opened my mind to different approaches and methods. Plum Island is a great place to work and has a national and international impact that I didn’t know before I started to do research here. Dr. Grubman’s lab has received me and other foreign colleagues with a lot of respect, great energy and warmth.” Colberg, who currently resides in Connecticut, will complete her stint at Plum Island in October.

“I have some very nice results that I have already published and additional results that I want to submit to a journal before I leave,” she said. “And this research has given me a good foundation for future research and will help me with my ultimate goal of obtaining a veterinary license in the U.S.”

When Colberg is not in veterinarian mode, she shakes off the lab coat and becomes a yogini. She is a devotee of Bikram yoga, which is done in a room heated to more than 100 degrees.

“Yoga releases stress, tension, and brings me back to a comfort zone, where everything is almost in perfect balance,” she said.

Colberg also enjoys kayaking with her husband Adam, and walking her dogs Ace, a French bulldog, and Gunther, a boxer.