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Sustainability

Dr. Shayan Sharif

Dr. Sharif is a Professor at the University of Guelph, with a research focus on the chicken immune system. He earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1991 with distinction from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tehran. Sharif became interested in poultry immunogenetics through his DVM thesis on the immunological aspects of Marek’s disease in chickens. Following graduation, Sharif practiced for close to 2 years as a veterinarian in the broiler industry in Iran. Subsequently, he came to Guelph in 1993 to pursue a Ph.D. at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. After graduating from his Ph.D. in 1999, Sharif received a post-doctoral fellowship for immunology research at The John Robarts Research Institute, London, Ontario. Sharif was recruited to the Department of Pathobiology, University of Guelph in 2001 to establish a research program in poultry immunology.

Dr. Sharif has worked with the Canadian Poultry Research Council (CPRC) since its inception, providing consultation advice during the forming of the council, having a number of projects funded by the organization, and participating on the CPRC scientific advisory committee. He also leads the Poultry Health Research Network, a collaboration of experts working on key issues for the poultry industry. The group has an up-to-date website (phrn.net) and active twitter account (@PHRN_) – check them out for updates!

Fostering expertise in the industry

Sharif has graduated over 60 students (undergrads, M.Sc. and Ph.D.) and post-doctoral fellows through his research program, and is currently supervising another 12 students and post-doctoral researchers. A number of them have continued their involvement in the poultry industry, for example as head of the clinical diagnostic lab at Penn State University with a focus on poultry, as an Associate Professor at University of California Davis in poultry genomics, and as an Associate Professor in poultry viral immunology at the University of Calgary. A former Ph.D. student is now a technical consultant for Elanco Canada, and another is a Research Scientist with Ceva working on coccidiosis vaccines. Additionally, some of Sharif’s students are doing private veterinary practice in poultry.

Highlights of research outcomes

Sharif and Dr. Joshua Gong (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) have collaborated a great deal over the years, making the most of available resources to work on priority issues for the poultry industry. Leading indirectly from their earlier work on microbial changes due to antibiotics, their collaboration continued with developing a probiotic formulation containing several lactobacilli. They have demonstrated that it safe to use, has the ability to enhance immune responses and also to reduce Salmonella burden in chickens. Probiotics may play a role as alternatives to antibiotics and in strategies to control microbes that cause food-borne illness in humans, such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. Probiotic bacteria can also influence the development of the immune system. However, a very limited number of probiotic products are currently available with proven immune enhancing capabilities in chickens, so this work by Sharif and Gong is very promising.

Campylobacter jejuni (C. jejuni) is a type of bacteria found naturally in the chicken gut. However, this bacterium is a significant concern to public health due to the number of human illnesses caused by it, with poultry products being the main source of transmission. Infection with C. jejuni is a reportable disease in humans. Despite its importance, there is currently no commercially available vaccine against the bacteria in chickens. Sharif and his team have looked at a variety of ways to reduce C. jejuni counts in the chicken gut, vaccination being one of them. Reduction of C. jejuni is the goal, rather than elimination, because it has been estimated that reducing counts by between 100 and 1000-fold, combined with other measures such as biosecurity, could decrease the number of cases of human campylobacteriosis by 90%. In pilot studies, Sharif demonstrated that the vaccine reduces numbers of C. jejuni in the chicken gut by approximately 50-fold.

Next steps

Dr. Sharif is continuing to develop and refine the probiotic formulation his team created, and they plan to run further tests to evaluate its economic viability for on-farm use. They hope to be able to commercialize the product in the near future.

Sharif is also continuing to work on the vaccine for C. jejuni – trying to perfect the formulation to improve immune response, and trying to optimize the method of delivery. Work is on-going to evaluate in ovo (in the egg at 18 days of incubation) and oral delivery of the vaccine.

Lastly, Sharif is also researching in ovo supplementation chick embryos with vitamins and probiotic bacteria to enhance the immune system.