Africa / Animal Health / Disease Control / ECF / ILRI / ILRIComms / Kenya / Staff / Trypanosomiasis / UK / Vaccines

Declan McKeever – ‘Veterinary Record’ tribute to gifted ILRI/ILRAD scientist by Ross Gray and Ivan Morrison

Peter Doherty (left) and Declan McKeever (right) at ILRAD in the 1990s

Peter Doherty (left, Nobel Laureate and head of the program committee of the ILRAD board of trustees) and Declan McKeever (right) at ILRAD in the 1990s (photo credit: ILRI).

In a further tribute to Declan James McKeever (Veterinary Record, February 15, 2014, vol 174, pp 176-177), who died in the UK on 23 January 2014 following illness, Ivan Morrison and Ross Gray write the following.

Declan McKeever was a highly gifted and productive veterinary scientist, who made major contributions to our knowledge of a number of diseases that continue to impair livestock production in Africa.

‘Immediately following completion of his PhD at the Moredun Research Institute in 1986, he joined the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases (ILRAD, now ILRI) in Nairobi, which at that time had a vibrant multinational research environment, free of bureaucratic constraints. Declan thrived in this environment (not everyone did) and quickly established himself as an independent researcher, eventually progressing to become senior scientist and then project coordinator for immunology and antigen delivery in the reformed ILRI. During the 12 years he spent in Kenya, he also developed a strong empathy for the African people and the problems that afflict their livestock, which was to have an important influence throughout his subsequent career.

‘Declan’s work in Kenya was focussed on defining protective immune mechanisms deployed by cattle against vector-borne pathogens, with the aim of exploiting this knowledge for vaccine development. An important aspect of his initial work was the establishment of lymphatic cannulation techniques in calves to facilitate studies of the early events in induction of immune responses in vivo. In collaboration with numerous colleagues, these techniques were employed to investigate immunity to Theileria parva, Trypanosoma congolense and Cowdria ruminantium. He carried out pioneering studies on the phenotype and function of the dendritic cells found in bovine afferent lymph, demonstrating their potent antigen-presenting capacity and identifying phenotypically and functionally distinct subsets of these cells using cell surface markers developed in ILRAD.

‘At the time, this work was at the forefront of dendritic cell biology, preceding by a number of years similar observations in other species. His work on the cellular responses to T. parva was instrumental in gaining an understanding the cellular basis of immunity to this parasite. . . . Declan also added to the Laboratory’s broad repertoire of immunological skills by introducing projects on live recombinant viral and bacterial delivery systems and DNA vaccines. The results of his research helped to lay the foundations for subsequent work on identification of T. parva antigens and the current effort on vaccine development. . . .

Altogether he was a highly effective contributor to ILRAD/ILRI’s generic capacity for development work on ruminant vaccines. . . . At the time of his death he was looking forward to participating in an international research consortium on vaccine development for T. parva, funded by the Gates Foundation as part of a major new initiative on veterinary vaccines. . . .

Subscribers to the Veterinary Record can read the whole (fine) tribute by Ross Gray, former director general of ILRAD (1982–1994), now retired; and Ivan Morrison, former ILRAD program leader for research on East Coast fever (1975–1989), now group leader at the Roslin Institute, here (15 Feb 2014, vol 174, pp 176–177).

Read ILRI’s tribute on the ILRI News Blog:
Declan McKeever: ILRI and ILRAD lose a friend, with a personal tribute by Brian Perry, 24 Jan 2014.

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