Deakin University

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Robustness of the Ferret Model for Influenza Risk Assessment Studies: a Cross-Laboratory Exercise

journal contribution
posted on 2023-07-17, 05:12 authored by JA Belser, EHY Lau, W Barclay, IG Barr, H Chen, RAM Fouchier, M Hatta, S Herfst, Y Kawaoka, SS Lakdawala, L Yi Yang Lee, G Neumann, M Peiris, DR Perez, C Russell, K Subbarao, TC Sutton, RJ Webby, H Yang, HL Yen
Past pandemic influenza viruses with sustained human-to-human transmissibility have emerged from animal influenza viruses. Employment of experimental models to assess the pandemic risk of emerging zoonotic influenza viruses provides critical information supporting public health efforts. Ferret transmission experiments have been utilized to predict the human-to-human transmission potential of novel influenza viruses. However, small sample sizes and a lack of standardized protocols can introduce interlaboratory variability, complicating interpretation of transmission experimental data. To assess the range of variation in ferret transmission experiments, a global exercise was conducted by 11 laboratories using two common stock H1N1 influenza viruses with different transmission characteristics in ferrets. Parameters known to affect transmission were standardized, including the inoculation route, dose, and volume, as well as a strict 1:1 donor/contact ratio for respiratory droplet transmission. Additional host and environmental parameters likely to affect influenza transmission kinetics were monitored and analyzed. The overall transmission outcomes for both viruses across 11 laboratories were concordant, suggesting the robustness of the ferret model for zoonotic influenza risk assessment. Among environmental parameters that varied across laboratories, donor-to-contact airflow directionality was associated with increased transmissibility. To attain high confidence in identifying viruses with moderate to high transmissibility or low transmissibility under a smaller number of participating laboratories, our analyses support the notion that as few as three but as many as five laboratories, respectively, would need to independently perform viral transmission experiments with concordant results. This exercise facilitates the development of a more homogenous protocol for ferret transmission experiments that are employed for the purposes of risk assessment. IMPORTANCE Following detection of a novel virus, rapid characterization efforts (both in vitro and in vivo) are undertaken at numerous laboratories worldwide to evaluate the relative risk posed to human health. Aggregation of these data are critical, but the use of nonstandardized protocols can make interpretation of divergent results a challenge. For evaluation of virus transmissibility, a multifactorial trait which can only be evaluated in vivo, identifying intrinsic levels of variability between groups can improve the utility of these data, as well as ensure that experiments are performed with sufficient replication to ensure high confidence in compiled results. Using the ferret transmission model and two influenza A viruses, we conducted a multicenter standardization exercise to improve the interpretation of transmission data generated during risk assessment activities; this exercise serves as a model for future efforts employing both in vitro and in vivo models against possible pandemic pathogens.









United States








Palese P




American Society for Microbiology