As globalization spreads, infectious diseases extend their reach and make a greater impact on human and animal populations. To counteract this threat, Luis Rodriguez, Ph.D., has dedicated his career to developing solutions to the spread of viruses. Now, as a scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service, he is able to research viruses on a daily basis.
After earning a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the National University of Costa Rica, Rodriguez attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received a master of science degree and a doctoral degree in veterinary virology. With an interest in infectious diseases, he applied for a research fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.
“Perhaps one of the most interesting memories relates to an incident that happened shortly after arriving at CDC. I was selected to be part of the CDC Ebola response in Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Rodriguez said. “Former CDC branch director and virologist C.J. Peters called me into his office and asked, ‘How do you feel around dead people?’. He then explained that I would be conducting research in the hospital morgue in Kikwit, Zaire, during my deployment.”
While at CDC, Rodriguez researched viral hemorrhagic fevers including Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever and Ebola virus disease to genetically and biologically characterize the interaction of the viruses with hosts and apply the research to disease epidemiology.
“I was able to participate in multiple research projects in the laboratory and participate in field investigations in Africa during the 1995 Ebola outbreak,” Rodriguez explained.
For more than 30 years, Rodriguez has worked on vesicular stomatitis virus, an insect-borne virus that causes disease in domestic livestock and humans. Currently, his research focuses on the pathogenesis of foot-and-mouth disease viruses in domestic animal species such as swine and cattle.
“Having the experience of doing research at CDC in high-profile infectious diseases prepared me very well to tackle challenges in my work with foreign animal diseases,” Rodriguez said.
His recent accomplishments include the development of a safe and effective foot-and-mouth disease vaccine (FMDV) platform that allows safe production in the United States. He also developed a controlled FMDV aerosol exposure method to vaccinate cattle, and he used it to characterize the primary replication sites of FMDV in cattle. Rodriguez has also described the use of infrared thermography for pre-clinical detection of FMDV-infected cattle. Additionally, he has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific publications, scientific reviews and book chapters.
In 2004, he established the first Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) fellowship program at the USDA, known as the Plum Island Animal Disease Center Research Participation Program. Since then, more than 100 research fellows have been trained in foreign animal disease research. There are also opportunities for individuals interested in doing postgraduate research on the island. Applications are currently being accepted for the PIADC Research Participation Program by ORISE on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service and the Department of Homeland Security
Rodriguez recognizes his CDC research fellowship as the most interesting and best learning experience of his scientific career, and he encourages others to take advantage of the opportunity.
The CDC research fellowship program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy.