University plays integral part in £1m international research
19 March 2010
Aberystwyth University is part of a £1 million international research effort to combat liver fluke – a parasite which causes disease in livestock, resulting in billions of pounds in losses every year to farmers around the world.
The disease caused by liver fluke worms – Fasciolosis – has a huge impact on livestock globally, causing ill health in animals and dramatically reducing productivity. Losses to UK farmers are estimated at over £300 million per year, while in India, Fasciolosis costs the agricultural sector between £1.3 and £3 billion per year.
Further, this disease is a food-borne pathogen which can also infect people. An estimated 17 million people are infected with the liver fluke worm and the disease has been designated a Neglected Tropical Disease by the World Health Organisation.
Parasitologists from the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University together with Queen’s University, Belfast’s School of Biological Sciences will work with partners at Aligarh Muslim University and Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University in India, in efforts to uncover a new vaccine for the disease.
Professor Wayne Powell, Director of IBERS said: "I am particularly pleased that IBERS is working in partnership to tackle major global challenges and making a contribution to solving some the most pressing problems in the developing world."
Professor Aaron Maule from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s said: “Liver fluke worms cause serious losses in cattle, buffaloes, goats and sheep and are a serious threat to the livelihood of farmers in many areas of Asia and Africa. A farmer in India whose buffalo is infected can see a 30 per cent drop in milk yields. This parasite represents a huge burden to India’s largely agricultural economy.
“In the developed world, liver fluke are mainly controlled using drugs which kill them. Drug resistance, however, is spreading. As these drugs become less effective, outbreaks of the disease in the UK are on the rise.
“A new control strategy, based on vaccination or chemotherapy, is urgently needed. This is exactly what we will be working to develop over the next three years, along with our partners in Wales and India.
“Key to the development of an effective treatment will be the careful selection of a suitable vaccine or drug target from within the worm. We will identify this target with the help of new molecular technologies, such as gene silencing, whereby potential targets are temporarily removed from the worm in order to determine their importance to the worm’s survival. Following the selection of the best vaccine targets, our research partners in India will conduct field trials in livestock to identify the best vaccine to control liver fluke disease.
“We also believe this technology based strategy for the selection of vaccine and drug targets will be directly transferable to other animal and human parasites, such as blood flukes and tapeworms.”
The £1 million research funding is part of the £13 million Combating Infectious Diseases of Livestock for International Development initiative co-funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Department for International Development and the Scottish Executive.
UK Development Minister Mike Foster said: “Smallholders from developing countries face a daily struggle. Healthy animals can mean the difference between feeding a family or being plunged further into poverty and malnutrition. This new research will reduce poverty, increase animal welfare and ultimately improve the quality of life for some of the world's poorest people.”
Welcoming the research, Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson said: “This collaboration demonstrates the UK's determination to share our world-leading science in the search for improved treatments and diagnostic tools in animal health. Animal disease is a deadly threat that leaves no corner of the Earth untouched. This research will allow communities to protect food chains and economies at home and in developing countries.”
BBSRC Chief Executive, Professor Douglas Kell, said: “Joining with partners from developing countries, UK science can provide a solid platform for providing disease management solutions from better vaccinations through to more sophisticated diagnostic techniques which will not only transform the lives of millions across the developing world, but also generate a more stable livestock infrastructure globally for the benefit of us all.”
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