The University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center recently welcomed two accomplished researchers into its infectious disease program. Dr. Feng Li has been named the William Robert Mills Chair in Equine Infectious Disease and Dr. Dan Wang joins the department as a virologist. Both Li and Wang came to UK from South Dakota State University (SDSU).
“I am extremely delighted that Drs. Feng Li and Dan Wang have joined our program. Their combined expertise in viral respiratory diseases will both complement and enhance the equine infectious disease program at the Gluck Center,” said David Horohov, chair of the Department of Veterinary Science, director of the Gluck Equine Research Center and Jes E. and Clementine M. Schlaikjer Endowed Chair. “I know our students, faculty and stakeholders will greatly benefit from their presence in our department.”
Li, who officially started July 1, was previously a professor of biology and microbiology in the Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Departments at SDSU. He earned a veterinary degree equivalent from the Qingdao Agricultural University, formerly known as Laiyang Agricultural University, in Shandong, China, and his master’s degree from the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Harbin, China. Li then earned a doctorate at the University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh.
Li’s laboratory is interested in understanding, treating and preventing communicable disease caused by viral pathogens. His lab currently studies several enveloped RNA viruses that cause significant diseases in humans and livestock, including zoonotic influenza A virus, HIV and emerging infectious disease agents such as Zika virus and influenza D virus. His lab works to better understand the dynamics and interactions between viral pathogens and hosts, with an aim of using that information to help develop next-generation vaccine and antiviral therapeutic strategies.
Past major contributions to virology include a classification change of equine rhinovirus 1 and, in conjunction with several researchers, including Dr. Charles Issel at the Gluck Center, the development of the first genetically engineered live attenuated equine infectious anemia virus vaccine, which resulted in a U.S. patent on EIA vaccine and diagnostics.
Additionally, his HIV research during his time at Panacos Pharmaceuticals resulted in discovering the first antiviral drug for equines. During his time at South Dakota State University, Li’s group discovered novel zoonotic influenza viruses with bovine as a primary reservoir, resulting in a proposal to name the group of new influenza viruses as influenza D type. The new group was recently approved by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses and the virology community. His group published the first manuscript reporting evidence that the new virus might infect horses. Li currently holds a prestigious National Institutes of Health grant for his work with the influenza D virus.
“I am very pleased and honored to become a part of the infectious disease research team at the Gluck Equine Research Center. I had strong collaboration in equine infectious anemia virus with Dr. Charles Issel’s group when I was a postdoctoral scientist working at University of Pittsburgh,” Li said. “In more recent years, we have been collaborating with Dr. Thomas Chambers’ group in equine influenza as well as the influenza D virus that we discovered in U.S. bovine and pig herds.
“Our research group is particularly interested in understanding, treating and preventing animal infectious diseases caused by viral pathogens. We currently study several enveloped RNA viruses, including influenza and retrovirus. In the near future, we would like to develop an internationally recognized equine virology program with strong integration of both basic science and translational research, and serve the equine community to improve the health and well-being of horses,” he said.
Wang started in the department Aug. 1. She will serve as an assistant research professor with a focus on contributing to the ongoing research program in equine virology, with a primary focus on the influenza viruses.
With extensive experience in this area, Wang is expected to assist with current research programs as well as establish a new direction of research in the department. This additional expertise in virology is expected to further strengthen an already strong program.
Prior to joining the Gluck Center, Wang was an assistant research professor in the Biology and Microbiology Department at South Dakota State University, where she also served as a postdoctoral research associate in the Health and Nutritional Sciences Department and where she earned her doctoral degree in biology and microbiology. She earned Master’s degrees at both the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom and at the University of Yanbian in Jilin, China. She earned a bachelor’s degree at the Nanjing Agricultural University in China.
Wang’s research interests are in the areas of influenza viruses, porcine coronavirus and HIV maturation inhibitors.
“I am very thrilled to join the world-renowned Gluck Equine Research Center that has a top-notch research team in equine infectious diseases,” Wang said. “Their unique approach in forming partnerships with industry to develop solutions and improve equine health is very appealing to me.
“My research interest lies in emerging viral diseases in animals, especially those caused by enveloped RNA viruses such as influenza and coronaviruses, and the development of effective countermeasures. I am looking forward to working with Gluck colleagues and industry partners in the area of emerging equine viral diseases,” she said.
The mission of the Gluck Center is scientific discovery, education and dissemination of knowledge for the benefit of the health and well-being of horses. Gluck Center faculty conduct equine research in seven targeted areas: genetics and genomics, immunology, infectious diseases, musculoskeletal science, parasitology, pharmacology, therapeutics and toxicology, and reproductive health. The Gluck Equine Research Center, a UK Ag Equine Program, is part of the Department of Veterinary Science in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the University of Kentucky.