World Food Prize laurete discusses life in vet science

Gabe Davis

Walter Plowright, 1999 World Food Prize Laureate and inventor of the Tissue Culture Rinderpest Vaccine (TCRV), spoke Monday to about 300 students and professors at the ISU Veterinary Medical College about his award and his life as a veterinary science researcher.

Plowright encouraged students and professors to break out of the mold — to find a problem within the world of veterinary medicine and solve it. He explained his line of study leading up to the period when he researched the rinderpest virus carried by cows in Nigeria and Kenya.

“We had a commitment to the country in which we were based,” he said. “Furthermore, we were judge and jury. We produced the vaccine, we ran the trials, and in the end, we set up the production process. Don’t you wish you could do that today?”

His study of the rinderpest virus was conducted from 1956-64, and it was done in Nigeria and Kenya.

The research of the TCRV was done by growing viruses in monolayer cultures on thin layers of glass rather than infecting an entire animal.

“I have a suspicion that we were able to acquire [the vaccine] so quickly was because we had no committees and boards to run everything through, no administration to tell us what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong,” Plowright said.

Plowright wrestled with perfecting the vaccination before the final product was produced. By the late 1960s, the vaccination was out on the market. It was actually his 90th sample.

“As we finished our research, I said, ‘We must not release a vaccine which has not been shown to be safe in all respects,'” Plowright said.

His vaccine can be used on any cow, in any country. The animal can be in practically any condition, including pregnant.

Plowright spoke about his research with the spinal diseases of dogs in Britain in the 1940s and muscular dystrophy with sheep in Kenya in the early 1950s.

He said he could have spent his whole life researching either of these fields, but he was looking for a study where he could go in-depth in an unresearched area to solve a problem.

“He could have stopped along the way with any of those [studies] and had it occupy his life,” said Eldon K. Uhlenhopp, associate dean of academic and student affairs for the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“But as it turns out, situations were such that he moved on. In a way, it’s both breadth and depth, and he was able to find a disease and an environment where he could do both of those.”