Two researchers have been presented with European Advisory Board on Cat Diseases (ABCD) and Merial Young Scientist Awards.

Emily Porter (second left) and Paweł Bęczkowski (centre) with Jean-Christophe Thibault of Merial, Karin Möstl of ABCD (second right) and Claire Bessant, chief executive of International Cat Care.

The award ceremonies took place at the International Society of Feline Medicine congress, organised by International Cat Care and held in Porto, Portugal.

Created in 2008, the awards are funded by Merial and presented to young scientists in veterinary or biomedical sciences who have made an original contribution in the field of feline infectious diseases and/or immunology.

The award for basic research was won by Paweł Bęczkowski, who is 31 and a Polish European College of Veterinary Internal Medicine resident at the University of Glasgow Small Animal Hospital.

While studying at the university’s centre for virus research, he focused on virus evolution in the disease progression of natural feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

Relatively little is known about the process in naturally infected cats and why some infected cats remain healthy, while others rapidly progress to immunodeficiency. Dr Bęczkowski found this could be because of the relative stability of the FIV env gene.

Karin Möstl, who chairs the European ABCD, said the work could help contribute to a better understanding of FIV infection.

“This work is not only of veterinary significance and clinical relevance, but also of comparative significance, as FIV serves as a valuable model for HIV infection,” Dr Möstl said.

The award for clinical research went to Emily Porter, 27, from the University of Bristol, for her work on the relationship between FCoV genotypes and the development of feline coronavirus infection (FIP).

FIP is one of most common causes of infectious disease in young cats housed in multi-cat environments. However, only a small percentage of infected cats go on to develop disease signs associated with FIP. Sequencing of the complete genomes of pathogenic and non-pathogenic viruses allowed identifying differences in the viruses that may contribute to pathogenicity.

Jean-Christophe Thibault, Merial’s technical director for biologicals (Europe, Middle East and Africa), said the work contributed to the identification of virus mutations relating to the development of FIP.

“It also opens the door to the development of a robust reverse genetics system, contributing to the development of new diagnostic tools and to the construction of genetically modified recombinant viruses as candidate vaccine strains,” Dr Thibault said.

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