Portable diagnostic test kit designed to speed treatment

Detecting fluke parasite | The on-farm testing kit delivers results in less than 10 minutes, allowing producers to protect their herds

LINDELL BEACH, B.C. — Irish scientists are working on an innovative tool to accelerate the fight against liver fluke in sheep and cattle. 


The Flukeless diagnostic test kit combines the latest in diagnostic devices, tracking systems and DNA testing to help identify and eradicate the parasite.


Blood testing and/or a fecal egg count from retrieved dung are the current methods used to detect the parasite.


“(The idea) is that the tool Flukeless can be taken out to the farm,” said Dr. Alan O’Riordan, principal investigator at the Tyndall National Institute in Cork, Ireland. 


“There is (currently) no electronic device that you can take into the field, take a blood sample from a cow and find out if that cow has liver fluke or bovine respiratory disease or any other disease that cattle get.”


Currently, blood samples can take up to three weeks to get laboratory results. And fecal egg counts require a lab technician to look at stool samples under a microscope to identify eggs. 


But eggs aren’t visible until the cow has built up enough parasites in the liver to produce the eggs, which are then passed through its system.


“A (on-farm) blood test would be simpler, quicker, cheaper and more pleasant all around,” said O’Riordan.


“We can design the chips. We can do multiple testing on one chip, we can test 12 cows on one chip or one chip can test for 12 different diseases in one cow. You will be able to get results back in five to 10 minutes.” 


That efficiency should help farmers find effective treatments quickly, mitigate against antibacterial resistance and protect the overall herd.


The goal is to develop a low-cost, electro-chemical biosensor on plastic chips that can be used to diagnose animal diseases on site.


The Flukeless kit will also be able to examine an animal’s genetics so farmers can make informed breeding decisions.


“Flukeless is different in that we’re going to use the sensor for genomics,” said O’Riordan. “Some animals are more predisposed to liver fluke than others. With this information, you can do selective breeding.”


O’Riordan said the kit will help farmers avoid having to medicate all animals. 


“A farmer may say that an animal looks a bit dodgy so he whacks it full of antibiotics. Then you have this immune resistance buildup. Those residues are in the milk and meat. That’s a waste economically, and you are exposing humans to traces of medication.”


He said producers will also be able to test for where an outbreak is located and assess risk. The animal health company Zoetis has joined with the project and uses the data to develop a geographical system.


“The data can be collected quickly and cheaply on farms and the information will be fed into geographical systems. Then we can predict where fluke outbreaks could occur.”