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A watchful eye on swine disease

Courtesy of Giovani Trevisan During his time as a veterinarian, Giovani Trevisan says he saw the need for more producer and veterinarian access to diagnostics information so they could make real-time, on-farm decisions based on that data.
During his time as a veterinarian, Giovani Trevisan says he saw the need for more producer and veterinarian access to diagnostics information so they could make real-time, on-farm decisions based on that data.
Rising Star: ISU Ph.D. goes beyond conventional research, establishes novel disease surveillance program.

It was September 2016 when Giovani Trevisan first met Daniel Linhares, an assistant professor and director of graduate education at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The two struck up a conversation at the annual Allen D. Leman Swine Conference meeting in St. Paul, Minn.

"Iowa State is recognized by the level of study that they provide, and they have outstanding professors, and is a swine-revered university, so that's what was attractive for me," Trevisan says. "I had the opportunity to meet Daniel Linhares, [who became] my adviser, and I felt very confident that we could work together and develop a good project."

Less than a year later, the veterinarian from Brazil packed his bags for Ames to pursue a Ph.D. with the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine; and in May 2020, Trevisan became the first ISU graduate student to earn a doctoral degree in population sciences in animal health.

The paragraphs below were submitted in a nomination letter by Linhares as well as three other professors in the ISU Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratory.

"Because of his hard and creative work, he was able to complete all requirements and defend the dissertation in less than three years, having all four research chapters published in high-quality scientific, peer-reviewed journals, and presenting multiple times as an invited speaker in national and international scientific conferences.

"Most graduate students work on existing areas of knowledge, helping to further advance in the knowledge of established fields. Giovani went beyond the 'conventional,' and established new platforms, new tools and new areas of knowledge, significantly helping to advance in the knowledge of pathogen activity in the U.S. swine industry."

The letter refers to one of Trevisan's most widely praised accomplishments: the novel disease surveillance platform known as the Swine Disease Reporting System.

For this contribution and others Trevisan has made and will continue to make, the authors say he is no doubt a rising star in the industry.

Rooted in raising pigs
Trevisan grew up on a small dairy and pig farm near Xavantina, Brazil, where he says he was most drawn to the finishing barn.

"Every day I had contact with pigs, so you can kind of say it was in my blood," Trevisan says.

After graduating high school in 2004, Trevisan decided to go directly into a five-year veterinary program at the Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina in Brazil. During veterinary school, Trevisan had the opportunity to work in U.S. pork production.

In 2009, he took an externship with Ohio State University's visiting program and spent a few months working at one of Smithfield Foods' breeding farms, a 4,000-head sow unit in North Carolina.

Trevisan says it was opportunities like that, and a chance to learn from others, that have been a highlight of his educational experience.

"It doesn't matter what job title they have, what position, but to learn from others — that's what has always been very helpful and contributed to my personal development," Trevisan says.

Following his graduation from veterinary school in 2009, he took a position as a trainee at Seara Alimentos. He then worked as a veterinarian for seven-plus years.

"I had the opportunity to move through the different production phases, from the sow farm to wean-to-finish, to the feed mill to the boar stud; so, it was a complete package, the training that I got with the company," Trevisan says.

Dashboard diagnostics
During his time working as a veterinarian, Trevisan says he saw the need for more producer and veterinarian access to diagnostics information, so they could make real-time decisions based on the data from the farm.

"Sometimes during my practice, I needed to get some more accurate information, and sometimes I didn't have that, so that was my motivation to be back at school and provide the kind of support they need," Trevisan says.

His first project as a Ph.D. student at ISU looked at ways for the industry to improve porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus surveillance.

"We were looking to see if there were some megatrends in this information on PRRS, and we did find some things such as lower detection during summer months and higher detections in the winter," he says.

Once the aggregated swine diagnostic data was shared with an advisory council made up of veterinarians and producers and was well received within the swine industry, Trevisan and Linhares decided to expand the surveillance report to include porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae and other potential pathogens.

Work leads to SDRS
The project, now called the Swine Disease Reporting System, is funded by the Swine Health Information Center and is a collaboration among the ISU, University of Minnesota, Kansas State University and South Dakota State University's respective veterinary diagnostic laboratories.

The aggregated data from these participating labs represent more than 94% of submissions of porcine samples for diagnostic investigation in the U.S. and allow a great understanding of macroepidemiological aspects associated with pathogen detection in swine samples.

The SDRS describes the dynamics of pathogen detection by VDL-performed assays over time, specimen, age group and geographical area.

Trevisan has also successfully implemented surveillance "dashboards" incorporating statistical tools for both prediction trends and early identification of unexpected changes in the frequency of disease agent detection.

For example, in July's SDRS, PRRS virus cases dropped in June compared to May. Overall detection of PRRS virus-positive cases was in the upper boundaries of forecasted levels for the first three weeks of June.

The overall percentage of PEDV RNA-positive cases in June also decreased compared to May, and were within expected boundaries of forecasted levels for this time of year.

Trevisan says identifying these trends is just the first step to further analysis of the data, to understand the reasons for the trends and to help manage them.

The goal is to share information on endemic and emerging diseases affecting the swine population in the U.S., assisting veterinarians and producers to make informed decisions on disease prevention, detection and management.

"They can benchmark this at the state and national level to see if they are seeing similar things as these aggregated data, or if they are above or below the results, and can make decisions on how they handle animal health interventions on the farm," Trevisan says.

'Exceeded expectations'
Trevisan's nominating professors describe him as having an "easygoing personality, along with his creative mind, and ability to 'get things done' makes him a great addition to any team."

Trevisan was invited to present his research findings eight times at national and international conferences; has published four manuscripts as the first author in high-quality peer-reviewed journals; was the first author of six proceedings papers and four magazine articles; and was the co-author in 16 proceedings papers or magazine articles.

He has also developed seven online dashboards to report to the findings of the SDRS project and has produced 29 monthly reports to the swine industry. In addition, Trevisan has mentored four veterinary students on summer projects involving data analysis and training in molecular tools such as polymerase chain reaction.

The nomination letter authors say Trevisan has "exceeded expectations, both in scientific rigor and tangible applications."

"Giovani's contributions are foundational for a legacy of continuous improvement of data integrity and visualization tools necessary for the next levels of 'precision livestock farming.'"

Knowledge quest continues
Since graduating, Trevisan continues to work with the ISU veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine team as a postdoc research associate. He looks to expand the SDRS project to include information for other viruses such as Influenza A and porcine circovirus type 2.

He is also further examining PRRS virus variability in breeding herds, and is working on a PRRS outbreak management project that is investigating the different approaches production systems have used to control the virus in breeding herds.

Trevisan acknowledges he couldn't have accomplished his educational aspirations without Linhares, who helped him design and develop the surveillance project; and Kent Schwartz, clinical professor of graduate education and an ISU VDL diagnostician, who kept bringing forth new ideas and keeping Trevisan organized.

He also gives credit to the other university professors he worked with to build the SDRS: Rodger Main, ISU VDL; Jerry Torrison, U-M VDL; Jane Christopher-Hennings, SDSU VDL; and Douglas Marthaler and Jamie Henningson, K-State VDL.

Trevisan is in no hurry to leave ISU as he recognizes there are still many areas in swine medicine he would like to study further.

"I'm looking to stay at ISU for this year, and maybe another year, as a postdoc position: to be able to get more insight and put more tools in my backpack for the opportunities that I may get in the future, either in academia or industry," he says.

"Right now, I want to explore a little bit longer in academia, to be able to incorporate these other tools to my daily chart."

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