The only CVI faculty member hired from within UGA, Tompkins has been at the College of Veterinary Medicine since 2005. As a member of the Emory-UGA Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance, funded by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, his work focuses mostly on human and zoonotic influenza. (The Emory-UGA Center is one of six nationwide that is funded by the NIH to help prevent pandemic flu.) Tracking influenza from emergence to treatment, his lab focuses on how varying species are susceptible to influenza, as well as the evolution of the virus.
Much of his research has direct agricultural application, as Tompkins tracks the spillovers across vectors, like that of the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak that evolved from avian, swine and human strains. He says predicting the next outbreak means thinking outside of the box to anticipate how the virus will mutate across populations. Understanding the viral fitness at each stage helps Tompkins develop targets for intervention.
“That outbreak reinforced what we knew as a research community, that swine is a classic mixing vessel, but it raised concern and research interest,” he said. “The more we know about what’s going on in swine populations, the better off we are in terms of public health and also the direct impact on swine productions.”
Tompkins also focuses on antiviral drug development and novel influenza vaccines that don’t require a continuous chain of cold storage for preservation—a major concern for sustainable vaccine development.