New skin tests developed to detect bovine tuberculosis

Welsh scientists have developed two new skin tests for cattle that may help fight the global battle against bovine tuberculosis.

Research by two scientists from Aberystwyth University has helped formulate two tests for the ravaging cattle disease, one that can detect if an animal is infected with bovine tuberculosis and the other that can detect if the animal has been vaccinated against it.

The combination of the essential proteins that enable the differentiation between vaccinated cattle and positive cases of bovine TB was established by the teams of Glyn Hewinson and Martin Vordermeier of Aberystwyth University while working at the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

Building on their work, the two skin tests have been created by an international team of scientists from Ethiopia, India, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and the United States.

Traditionally, bovine TB tests carried out on cattle show a positive result for cows that have the disease as well as those that have been vaccinated against it.

The vaccine has remained largely unused for this reason because authorities wanting to control bovine TB outbreaks cannot distinguish infected regions from areas where cattle have been vaccinated. It is prohibited throughout the European Union, as well as in Canada and the United States.

By distinguishing between vaccinated and infected cattle, the new tests could facilitate the implementation of vaccination programs globally that could considerably reduce the transmission of this infectious bacterial disease from cattle to humans.

The new test will now have to be evaluated in field trials to a level recommended by the World Organization for Animal Health.

Safety and regulatory aspects of the new tests will also have to be evaluated, and studies into this are already under way in the U.K. and India.

Hewinson leads the Centre of Excellence for Bovine TB at Aberystwyth University.

“We have worked for over 20 years on developing vaccines and diagnostic tests for bovine tuberculosis. It would be wonderful if either of these tests succeeds in bringing about significant improvements in the control of bovine TB globally,” said Hewinson.

“Such a development would represent the culmination of a great deal of work by dedicated and talented scientists from around the world, and a significant step forward in our efforts to control this disease.

Vordermeier called the development “a crucial step on the long and challenging journey to implement cattle TB vaccine programs to reduce the burden of this intractable disease.

“Without such tests, traditional test and slaughter control strategies could not be pursued alongside vaccination, nor could vaccine efficacy and disease prevalence be effectively monitored in vaccinated animals in countries where such control strategies are unaffordable or societally not acceptable.”

The study results were first published in the July 2019 issue of Science Advances.

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