Joshua Sealy

Project Title: Molecular epidemiology of H9N2 avian influenza viruses in Pakistan

About Joshua: I am looking forward to studying the dynamic relationship that H9 avian influenza virus in Pakistan has with its hosts, geography and other avian viruses, as well as the factors that facilitate disease prevalence regardless of human efforts to control it. I am also excited to be part of the ZELS Doctoral Training Programme because as a part of this program, I will be interacting with researchers working on the control of multiple infectious diseases and gain training in a wide range of biological and biotechnological disciplines. The focus of this training will be to improve disease control systems of infectious viral diseases in animals and humans.

Contact Joshua: The Pirbright Institute
Ash Road, Pirbright
Woking, GU24 0NF

Project Outline: Avian influenza viruses (AIV) of the H9N2 subtype are causing devastating losses in poultry in many countries throughout Asia, the Middle East and North Africa including Pakistan. Recent evidence suggests that H9N2 viruses have a particularly high tendency for donating internal genes by reassortment to other co-circulating AIV, and these internal genes may contain molecular markers associated with mammalian transmissibility, thus posing a risk for pandemic emergence of novel human-transmissible genotypes.

To reduce the impact of H9N2 in poultry, several countries employ vaccination, however the efficacy of these programs is compromised by continued rapid adaptive evolution of the virus, and the emergence of variants that are not covered by current vaccine formulations. This‌ project will investigate the epidemiology of H9N2 in Pakistan, a country that has experienced severe outbreaks of H9N2 avain influenza in poultry.

The aims include:

characterising diversity of H9 viruses among poultry productions systems at varying levels of industrialisation;
examining the role of live bird markets in H9 transmission; and
evaluating the extent of antigenic diversity and implications for vaccine effectiveness.
The project will involve surveillance activities in Pakistan; field trials of novel diagnostics tools; and phylogenetic analysis of H9 sequences. The project will be conducted within the larger framework of a ZELS project to develop novel avian influenza vaccines, with the goal of understanding how vaccine intervention strategies impact viral diversity and industrialisation of poultry production. There will be opportunities for comparative analysis of AIV and H9 epidemiology across different countries.

Supervisors: Munir Iqbal (Main supervisor, The Pirbright Institute), Dirk Pfeiffer (RVC), John McCauley (MNIMR), Tahir Yaqub (Pakistan)