[MUSIC PLAYING] BRUCE KORNREICH: Feline infectious peritonitis is a leading cause of illness and death among cats worldwide. And there is no treatment for it. So it's routinely a fatal disease. And clearly, it has a major impact on feline health and well-being. It's particularly a problem in young cats. And up until now, it's been a major problem in terms of diagnosing the disease definitively.
GARY WHITTAKER: This is a virus which has a lot of important things going on. It's a virus that is a big, huge, black box in terms of what it's causing the cat. And that's really what captured my attention.
BRUCE KORNREICH: Feline infectious peritonitis is caused by a virus called the coronavirus. And this is a type of virus that usually causes relatively benign disease. When it mutates to this more lethal form of the disease, it causes a generalized inflammatory reaction throughout the body, then is routinely fatal.
GARY WHITTAKER: So, the conventional approach to this problem is essentially a genetic approach, which means analyzing a lot of samples of cats from a genetic point of view, the sequence information of the virus. We kind of twisted that around a little bit and refocused our efforts more from a biochemical point of view, which means looking at the function of the virus first. That was a breakthrough in order to be able to focus our efforts on a particular region of the virus. So I think it's this refocused approach, thinking of function first, which has allowed us to make this discovery.
BRUCE KORNREICH: The ultimate goal would be to identify potential therapeutic targets to treat cats that have FIP, and also, quite importantly, to develop an effective vaccine from this finding to prevent FIP.
GARY WHITTAKER: We've been studying this virus for, maybe, three or four years. I would really like to put a big thank you out to the people who've helped contribute to the study.
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What makes a harmless virus turn lethal? For the deadliest infectious disease in cats, Cornell scientists now know. Their study provides a long-sought breakthrough, opening the door to development of the first working diagnostics, vaccines and treatments for feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).