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Scientists seek test for cattle parasite infection

Backing from biotech company Roslin Technologies supports work towards tool to detect trypanosomiasis.

Cattle in Kenya
A test could help prevent the devastating impact of trypanosomiasis.

Scientists are seeking to develop a diagnostic test for a common cattle infection that affects livestock and communities in some of the world’s poorest regions.

With support from venture builder Roslin Technologies, researchers will focus on developing a test that picks up cases of trypanosomiasis, a parasitic infection spread by the bite of the tsetse fly.

A test could help prevent infected animals from severe anaemia and wasting, which impacts milk and meat yields and can be fatal, causing an estimated 3 million cattle deaths annually.

Roslin researchers will develop their test based on the detection of a small molecule of genetic material – known as RNA – associated with the parasite, which can also be used to differentiate between different trypanosome species.

Detecting disease

During the 12-month project, scientists will develop and validate the test, including assessing its sensitivity and ability to detect particular parasite species, and the stage at which RNA in infections can first be detected.

The project will transition to Roslin Technologies for commercialisation, including scale up, kit development and preparation, and marketing, including protecting the intellectual property behind the test.

Current trypanosomiasis tests can be ineffective in identifying animals with active infections; which can result in over-use of anti-parasitic drugs, accelerating drug resistance among the parasites, and making treatments less effective.

There is no vaccine and the best method to control the disease is to identify and treat affected animals.

In South America, where more than 20 per cent of the world cattle population is farmed, the parasite is an emerging serious threat.

In sub-Saharan Africa, trypanosomiasis can be devastating, impacting cattle and other working animals, which are relied on by some of the world’s poorest people.

An accurate test will also help monitor the success of disease control strategies that target tsetse flies. Some trypanosome species also infect humans, so reducing the instances in animals can reduce the occurrence in people.

The small RNA diagnostic test is a truly novel approach for African animal trypanosomiasis detection, for which there are very few current diagnostic options. We hope that developing this test will have a beneficial impact on livestock production in affected countries, and that the test can be further developed for detection of other pathogens.

Dr Liam MorrisonRoslin Institute

This parasite-borne disease is a serious concern for livestock and affected communities. Tackling it is a key step towards ensuring food security, and supporting people in affected regions.

Dr Finn GreyRoslin Institute

We are very pleased to be working with the University of Edinburgh team to take this much-needed test to the next stage in its commercial development.

Professor Jacqui MatthewsRoslin Technologies

** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

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