Innovating and Investing in Disease Prevention: The Development of a Natural Disease Challenge Model

A novel and robust natural disease challenge research approach has been successfully developed by a team of researchers from the Universities of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Guelph, and Iowa State, together with researchers from Centre de développement du porc du Québec (CDPQ) and collaborators from PigGen Canada (PGC). This unique and ambitious research is investigating how and why some pigs continue to perform well under substantial pathogen exposure, while others succumb to disease.

The natural challenge model involves animals from PGC members that undergo a series of controlled acclimation periods and initial immune response testing before entering the challenge barn at Centre de Développement du Porc du Québec (CDPQ). It is in this facility that the pigs are exposed to the mixture of common pig pathogens through pig-to-pig contact and from the environment. This is a “natural route” to infection rather than an oral or injected challenge of a pathogen. Working together with the local Animal Protection Committee and with strong veterinary oversight by project veterinarians and team members, samples and measurements correlating to pig health and welfare are gathered. This will set the stage for analysis at the genomic level to investigate whether a genetic difference in these animals contributes to disease resilience traits and can be used to benefit Canadian pig producers.

The establishment of this unprecedented natural disease challenge model has already garnered interest from other international researchers and stakeholders. The challenge model is providing the opportunity for researchers to work together to delve deeper into exploiting the genetic control of disease resilience with the goal of providing alternative strategies to control disease on commercial operations, and lessen the reliance on antibiotics.