Research by two Aberystwyth scientists has paved the way for a possible breakthrough in the worldwide fight against Bovine TB.
They have developed two skin tests for cattle that can distinguish between animals that are infected with bovine TB and those that have been vaccinated against the disease - whereas the traditional skin test shows a positive result for cows that have the disease as well as those that have been vaccinated.
It means that vaccines developed years ago could become key features in controlling the spread of the disease, according to details announced at the Royal Welsh Show.
The combination of the essential proteins which enable the differentiation between vaccinated cattle and positive cases of bTB has been established by Professor Glyn Hewinson and Professor Martin Vordermeier, of Aberystwyth University, and their teams 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 USA.
The project has been supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government.
Developed in the early 1900s from the bacterium that causes TB in cattle, the vaccine has remained largely unused to vaccinate cattle and is prohibited throughout the European Union, as well as in the United States and many other countries.
But by distinguishing between vaccinated and infected cattle, the new tests will facilitate the implementation of vaccination programs globally that could considerably reduce the transmission of this infectious bacterial disease.
The new test will now have to be evaluated in field trials to a level recommended by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
Further, regulatory issues including demonstrating their safety will also have to be addressed and such studies are already under way in the UK and in India.
Professor Hewinson leads the newly established Centre of Excellence for Bovine TB at Aberystwyth University which is being funded by the Welsh Government, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, participating Welsh Higher Education institutions and the European Regional Development Fund.
He said: “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.
“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.
“These tests have been developed as a consequence of elucidating the genetic composition of the bacteria that causes bovine TB and a considerable number of studies on how cattle respond to TB infection and vaccination and areas of investigation we will continue in Aberystwyth.”
Professor Vordermeier said: “Development of these tests is a crucial step on the long and challenging journey to implement cattle TB vaccine programmes 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.”