WesternU College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) Assistant Professor Yvonne Drechsler, PhD, received a First Award Grant from Morris Animal Foundation that will help her identify the genetic mysteries associated with two types of feline coronavirus – the more common feline enteric coronavirus and the more deadly feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIPV).

The two-year, $108,000 award, "Identifying Genetic Causes of Coronavirus and FIP," will assist Drechsler, the principal investigator, and her team in developing early diagnostic tools and providing a foundation for developing better vaccines, detection methods and treatment options for the disease. The team includes Western University of Health Sciences professors, a research technician, and a California State Polytechnic University, Pomona undergraduate student.

"I’m really excited about determining what drives this virus," Drechsler said. "I’m grateful to Morris Animal Foundation for providing a young investigator like me the chance to do something that benefits research and animals."

Drechsler said that the common type of coronavirus, present in many shelter cats, resides in the gut and generally only causes minor symptoms. In contrast, FIPV causes a deadly disease that, as indicated by its name, is very hard to definitively diagnose. Cats that get this form of the virus become so sick that they are euthanized, she said.

Drechsler’s co-investigators include CVM Professor Ellen Collisson, PhD, who has vast experience in veterinary virology and has worked on avian and feline coronavirus studies; Assistant Professor Frank Bossong, DVM, a shelter medicine specialist; and Assistant Professor Pedro Diniz, DVM, a small-animal internist who also helped bring FIP to Drechsler’s attention.

Also aiding in the research is Lisa Griggs, a research technician, and Colin Koziol, a fourth-year Cal Poly Pomona student majoring in science.

Morris Animal Foundation is funding 10 Veterinary Student Scholars at WesternU, but Dreschler’s study is the first traditional award to the University, said Tina M. Martinez, marketing and media relations manager for the Foundation.

"Morris Animal Foundation is a world leader in advancing veterinary research that protects, treats and cures animals," said Wayne Jensen, DVM, PhD, MBA, Morris Animal Foundation chief scientific officer. "By providing scientists the funds they need to accomplish this important work, we are one step closer in creating a healthier tomorrow for animals everywhere."

Morris Animal Foundation will fund nearly 90 new and continuing companion animal studies in 2011. Over the next three years, more than $6 million is committed for canine health and welfare research and more than $3.5 million will go toward feline health and welfare research, according to a statement.