GUVS FIP Research Update

How your donations to FIP Research are used.

The Luca Fund provides much needed support for a number of research initiatives at the University of Glasgow which investigate feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and its causal pathogen, feline coronavirus.

Studies are ongoing in two main areas:

The first is a data-driven study, aimed at improving diagnostic testing based on information from the standard laboratory tests used to diagnose FIP. Usually, a panel of blood tests from a suspect cat is used when investigating a possible case of FIP. However, the result of no one single test is conclusive, and diagnosis is usually reached by interpreting these test results as a group. Through decades of diagnostic testing, the University School of Biodiversity, One Health & Veterinary Medicines at the University of Glasgow have data from thousands of cats, which they are statistically analysing to look for ‘signature’ patterns among the results which can either rule-in or rule-out FIP as a diagnosis. The researchers have been making good progress in this area and have developed a computerised pattern recognition system which can look at an individual cat’s test results and determine whether he/she has FIP or not, with the same level of accuracy as an expert veterinary pathologist. Ultimately, the hope is that this approach will help standardise and improve the ability of veterinarians to diagnose, and equally importantly, rule-out FIP in the future.

The second main area of investigation is the transmission of feline coronavirus at the local and national scale. The Covid-19 pandemic has raised questions about the potential role of cats and other companion animals in the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes Covid-19. Thankfully, the evidence strongly indicates that pet animals are not involved in the pandemic. Feline coronavirus, which causes enteric infection and FIP in cats, belongs to a different coronavirus family than the Covid-19 virus and is effectively unrelated. So, while the evidence indicates cats play no role in the transmission in the current pandemic, it would be useful to know for the future how coronavirus spreads within the cat population. In particular, this study will provide new information on how feline coronavirus is spread within multi-cat households, which will generate much needed baseline information on local transmission cycles. This in turn will increase knowledge of the epidemiology of FIP, which is currently poorly understood.

If you believe that FIP research can be successful without the use of laboratory cats, and unconditionally oppose any research that leads to the loss of life through intentional infection and unnecessary and painful experimentation: Please donate to the Luca Fund for FIP Research.

Research update – November 2023

This year EndFIP® and the Luca Fund for FIP Research celebrated their 5th anniversary. Our work is undoubtedly an immense task that no individual or organization could do alone. It takes an entire community to safeguard and protect cats. We are deeply grateful to our invaluable donors, partners, and passionate supporters whose unwavering commitment has remained strong throughout. It is their support that has brought us to where we are today and enabled us to continue.

5th anniversaryFive years on, we keep on undertaking initiatives to push forward our work on feline coronavirus, and facilitate research on other feline viruses affecting cats worldwide. We remain committed to ethical and humane FIP research and are pleased to share below a few words by Professor Willie Weir – Academic Head of Infectious Disease at the University of Glasgow Veterinary Diagnostic Services:

“The Luca Fund continues to support non-invasive research into feline viral disease at the University of Glasgow. The funds are primarily being used to support two main aspects of Feline Infectious Peritonitis research: (1) improving methods to diagnose FIP and (2) characterising the pathogen which causes the disease, namely feline coronavirus, using a genetic analysis approach.

We have been using the large volume of diagnostic data collected by the laboratory over many years to train computer algorithms to better diagnose FIP. This approach is based on using a form of artificial intelligence known as ‘machine learning’ to extract subtle signals from the data. We initially developed this technique to help detect ‘dry’ FIP, the more difficult form of the disease to diagnose, and we have now generated models for the ‘wet’ form of the disease, where sick cats experience a build-up of fluid in their abdomen. For both presentations of FIP, these models can be used to diagnose the disease with a high level of accuracy. The results of the recent ‘wet’ FIP study were presented at the 2022 Conference of the International Society for Companion Animal Infectious Disease and both these studies are currently being written up for publication.

The feline coronavirus sequence analysis project is also progressing, and with the essential support of the Luca Fund, the laboratory has been able to purchase a ‘Nanopore MinION’ instrument for high-throughput sequencing. Not only has this moved forward our work on feline coronavirus, but it has also facilitated research on other feline viruses, which impact the health of domestic cats around the world. One challenge with working with feline coronavirus is that only particular strains of the virus can be grown in the laboratory, so our current work is focused on being able to fully sequence the viral genome directly from clinical samples, so that all strains in circulation can be characterised. Work is progressing in this area and we find ourselves being able to sequence an ever-growing proportion of the viral genome as we refine our experimental workflow.

The availability of the Nanopore sequencing device means we have ability to undertake genetic studies into other common viruses of cats, such as feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus. In contrast to feline coronavirus, these other viruses grow well in the laboratory and this allows us to quickly generate and analyse high-quality sequence datasets. We have now finalised a laboratory workflow for capturing feline herpesvirus genomic data and this will be presented by a student at the American College of Veterinary Pathologists Conference this October in Chicago.

It is important to note that these funds have been used to support the studies of a PhD student working on FIP, Dawn Dunbar, together with other postgraduate researchers and veterinary students. Consequently, the Luca Fund is being used not only to directly address the problem of FIP, it is also providing important training opportunities for young researchers in this field and promoting continued investigation into viral disease in cats.”

Watch how your generous donations to the Luca Fund drive groundbreaking research and innovation at Glasgow University

If you would like to discuss your giving or if you have any questions about the research progress you make possible, please contact us by email at fundraising@endfip.com.

Microscopic view of a well containing a mixture of uninfected feline cells and feline cells infected with FCoV. If a sample is positive for FCoV antibodies, the antibodies in it will attach to the virus on the surface of the infected cells. Another antibody with a fluorescent marker will bind to the antibodies that are stuck to the virus, so the positive samples have fluorescent green coloration. If a sample is negative, there is just some background staining.

Research update – September 2022

While the last couple of years has been a challenging period, it has also highlighted the strength of our animal-loving community. Despite the fact the Covid-19 pandemic has brought unimaginable challenges, EndFIP® and the Luca Fund for FIP Research have found creative ways to ensure that our efforts to end FIP are moving forward. We are heartened that the work we started to help domestic cats is dovetailing to help other species. The following paragraphs speak to some of the inspiring and innovative initiatives we are undertaking to ensure that every cat across the globe continues to roar, grow and thrive.

FIP Research at the University of Glasgow

Research efforts at the University School of Biodiversity, One Health & Veterinary Medicine laboratory at the University of Glasgow, funded by EndFIP® and the Luca Fund for FIP Research, are ongoing. A large-scale study into using computer-aided decision-making to help in diagnosing the dry form of FIP has now been completed. In this collaborative study involving clinicians, data scientists, and laboratory specialists, a machine learning approach was utilized to address this long-standing problem. The diagnosis of FIP currently requires the subjective assessment and integration of results from multiple tests. Recent work in the laboratory has created a series of highly incisive predictive computer models using data from thousands of suspected cases over a period of two decades. The ability to rapidly and accurately diagnose this condition has now become of critical importance. In the last two years, antiviral drugs developed for human treatment have been licensed for veterinary use in several countries and these have proven highly effective in curing cats with this usually fatal disease. With successful treatment being dependent on rapid and accurate diagnosis, improvements in FIP testing will allow the rapid instigation of treatment where appropriate, thus alleviating the pain and suffering otherwise associated with this disease.

In addition to investigating the genetic diversity of feline coronavirus, which causes FIP, research work within the laboratory is now also focusing on examining the diversity of ferret coronavirus. Ferrets can suffer from a syndrome that is very similar to FIP and which is caused by ferret coronavirus, which is genetically very closely related to feline coronavirus. This virus can also cause a severe intestinal infection which can pass among ferrets. Building on our efforts to sequence and understand feline coronavirus diversity among the cat population, we are now using high-throughput sequencing equipment, purchased with the support of EndFIP® and the Luca Fund, to undertake a parallel study of ferret coronavirus. This will allow us to compare viral populations to gain greater insight into the evolution of this large family of companion animal viruses.

Collaboration with the Cheetah Conservation Fund

The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) is a charitable organization based in Africa that undertakes a range of activities to help conserve cheetahs. In collaboration with various partners, one of the aspects of their work is to care for cheetahs rescued from the illegal pet trade. The CCF provides safe houses and veterinary care for large numbers of young cheetahs, many of which have been rescued from distressing circumstances. Similar to domestic cats, cheetahs can be infected by feline coronavirus and can develop feline infectious peritonitis. The CCF veterinary team, which comprises veterinary surgeons and research scientists, is collaborating with the University of Glasgow University School of Biodiversity, One Health & Veterinary Medicine to investigate the distribution of the virus and incidence of FIP in the rescued cheetah population while in safe-house accommodation. This involves screening incoming and resident cheetahs for evidence of exposure to coronavirus and monitoring viral shedding in infected cheetahs. 

Establishing and maintaining a feline coronavirus-free environment and population is extremely challenging in a rescue center setting such as this. Efforts are directed towards qPCR testing of cheetah fecal samples to investigate carriage of the virus in housed/rescued animals, in an attempt to minimize the risk of FIP, which is a major concern in these animals. VDS is engaged in the ongoing testing of cheetah samples, which takes considerable technical time and resources. This important work is necessary to allow the CCF to optimize management practices and make the best use of their resources in order to reduce the risk of disease in this critical feline species. EndFIP® and the Luca Fund support non-invasive research into FIP and are funding these ongoing activities.

Please contact us by email at fundraising@endfip.com if you would like to discuss your giving or if you have questions about the research progress you make possible.

Research update – July 2021

Through the strong, ongoing support of the Luca Fund, we have been able to advance our research work in both in data-driven FIP diagnostics and the epidemiology of the underlying pathogen, feline coronavirus. We are currently extending our ‘machine learning’ diagnostic algorithm to assist in the diagnosis of wet FIP, building on our work on the dry form of the disease, with encouraging results. Because of our central role as a feline diagnostic virology laboratory, our research group has been collaborating in broader efforts to understand the role of cats in the Covid-19 pandemic. While we have found evidence of rare human-to-cat transmission events, we find no evidence of the virus transmitting in the other direction. By analysing the genetic code of the virus, we and others have confirmed that, as suspected, there is no recombination between FCoV and SARS-CoV-2 as the viruses belong to quite different groups. Our work on FCoV genetic diversity and epidemiology has also taken a major step forward.

The Luca Fund has allowed us to invest in ‘in-house’ genome-sequencing equipment, which means we will be able to study the virus genetic code in our own laboratory.

The Covid-19 pandemic has put coronavirus firmly at the top of the priority list in countries around the world, and this can only be a good thing for driving forward research on under-studied pathogens such as FCoV. The speed at which safe and effective coronavirus vaccines and therapies have been developed is nothing short of remarkable and this provides optimism for what can be achieved in the feline field given sufficient support.

Professor Willie Weir
Academic Head of Infectious Disease
University of Glasgow University School of Biodiversity, One Health & Veterinary Medicines.