Aug. 12, 2015

Vet Med's training program tackles bovine mastitis on dairy farms

A cross-Canada multidisciplinary program for grad students aims to improve udder health and milk quality in cows

Veterinary medicine researchers are part of a new project funded by Collaborative Research and Training Experience Program (CREATE) to reduce udder inflammation in cows.

Veterinary medicine researchers are part of a new project to reduce udder inflammation in cows.

Mastitis — inflammation of the udder — costs Canada’s dairy industry about $400 million every year. It reduces milk production, affects milk quality, impacts the cow’s well-being and is the main reason why dairy farms use antibiotics.

To tackle this serious animal health problem, a new cross-Canadian, interdisciplinary project funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is providing new training opportunities.

The NSERC Collaborative Research and Training Experience Program (CREATE) in Milk Quality is developing a training program for graduate students that combines theory and hands-on experience.

The NSERC CREATE grant is $1.65 million over the next six years. 

Funding allows more students to be trained

“We want to prepare grad students to be good in one area but also be a very good collaborator in other areas,” says Herman Barkema, NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Infectious Diseases of Dairy Cattle in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

“If they’re a clinician or an epidemiologist, they should know enough about immunology, bacteriology and all those other areas so they can actually work together with basic scientists. On the other hand, basic scientists should know enough about the disease and farm management to collaborate with clinicians."

The project builds upon Barkema's research. He is one of the founders of the decade-old Canadian Bovine Mastitis and Milk Quality Research Network. It brings together Canadian and international researchers to develop tools and build knowledge toward improving udder health and reducing the significant economic losses caused by bovine mastitis.

“We have a proven program, we have research going on that the students will benefit from, we have good contacts in the industry already, so it’s all there,” says Barkema. “The CREATE program in Milk Quality dovetails excellently with what we already have. We can train way more students.”

Herman Barkema, NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Infectious Diseases of Dairy Cattle in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine will lead the multidisciplinary training in a new project to tackle dairy milk quality.

Herman Barkema is the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Infectious Diseases of Dairy Cattle.

Cross-disciplinary teams collaborate across Canada 

Barkema will lead the multidisciplinary training objective, which also includes scientists from Canadian universities, federal research centres and the dairy industry. Graduate students will learn about everything from laboratory-based research — including molecular microbiology, immunology and biotechnology — to clinical veterinary medicine, epidemiology and animal welfare research that’s applied on the farm.

The new program, led by the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, includes nine universities and is open to graduate students and trainees outside the area of milk quality. It includes cross-disciplinary exchanges for graduate students, online courses, workshops on knowledge transfer and communication as well as opportunities for graduate students to work with industry and government.

As partners in the CREATE program in Milk Quality, UCalgary researchers and students will collaborate with colleagues and industry partners across Canada to solve major animal health issues. This program is part of UCalgary’s strategic research focus on Infections, Inflammation and Chronic Diseases, dedicated to translating discovery and training into better global human and animal health.