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Undergraduates from across the country and their research mentors at UT are investigating ways to manage and control outbreaks of canine distemper virus, a devastating disease affecting dogs—particularly those in animal shelters—and other wildlife.

front-nimbiosThe four students, in partnership with their research mentors—Suzanne Lenhart, professor of mathematics, and Rebecca Wilkes, research assistant professor in the virology lab at the UT Institute of Agriculture’s College of Veterinary Medicine—are using mathematical modeling to build an epidemiological framework for a shelter situation using data from Knoxville-area outbreaks. They are conducting the research through the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), based at UT.

“When shelters have the outbreaks, the only way they can treat them is to kill off the dogs to stop it,” said Virginia Parkman, a UT junior math major. “I would like to find better treatment options. It would make me so happy if I could somehow save any of these dogs.”

The media is invited to observe students at 2:00 p.m. Thursday, July 23, as they learn more about canine distemper and work on building the epidemiological model. The work aims to strengthen control strategies by better understanding how canine distemper is transmitted.

Canine distemper produces severe systemic disease in dogs, is highly contagious, and has caused multiple outbreaks recently in animal shelters, including several in Tennessee. It also infects multiple wildlife species including raccoons, coyotes, wolves, skunks, and bobcats.

Parkman noted that a new strain of canine distemper exists that is more resistant to current vaccines because of its contact with wildlife populations. The students’ research will investigate more effective solutions to combating the virus.

Parkman and the three other students on the canine distemper project join a highly select group of fifteen undergraduates and two high school teachers conducting research as a part of NIMBioS’ Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates and Teachers program. From June 8 to July 31, the participants live on campus and work in teams with NIMBioS postdoctoral researchers and UT professors on various mathematical biology research projects.

To read more about the distemper project, visit the NIMBioS website.

NIMBioS fosters new collaborative efforts to investigate biological questions using mathematical and computational methods.

Learn more about NIMBioS online.

C O N T A C T :

Lola Alapo, UT media relations (865-974-3993,

Kelly Sturner, NIMBioS education and outreach coordinator (865-974-9364,

Rebecca Wilkes (865-974-9364,