Scientists are developing a portable testing device which would be capable ofdetecting bovine tuberculosis in cattle in just a matter of minutes. The majorstudy, involving experts at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), would mean thatappropriate measures could be taken more quickly to limit the spread of theinfectious disease which is one of the biggest challenges facing the cattlefarming industry.
Currently it can take up to a week to identify bovine TB, following twoseparate skin tests by a veterinary physician and further analysis in alaboratory.
But the new 1.1 million collaborative study between CompandDX Ltd (NTU),Public Health England, Sapient Sensors Limited and the Centre for ProcessInnovation Ltd., could mean a rapid ‘point of care’ device about the size ofa smartphone could be used by veterinarians to give an almost instantdiagnosis from a simple blood test at farm sites.
This means, if cattle are infected, crucialdecisions to vaccinate, isolate or cull a herd could be made early before thedisease spreads or worsens. The device could also be used to provide importantreassurance to farmers about the health of their cattle, before they sell formilk or beef.
In addition, reducing the levels of bovine tuberculosis in the environmentcould help to resolve TB issues in badger populations, potentially reducing theneed for culling, the scientists say.
The three yearstudy, being co-funded by the UKs innovation agency, the Technology StrategyBoard, involves identifying biological markers or molecules in the blood,which indicate the presence of bovine TB and which could help spot the diseasefrom a blood test rather than the time consuming skin test currently in use.
As well as providing a rapid, accurate diagnosis, the new system would be farmore cost effective than the current system – with no costly repeat testing,just one visit from a vet, and the potential to reduce the amount paid out incompensation to farmers by correctly identifying infected cattle.
From January to August last year more than 22,000cattle were slaughtered because of bovine TB and the disease has cost the UKtaxpayer 500 million over the last ten years.
Bovine TB is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis),which can also infect and cause TB in badgers, deer, goats, pigs, dogs and cats,as well as other mammals, including humans.
Because it is a’notifiable disease’ – so required by law to be reported – the new system wouldautomatically feed information about tested cattle back to a central database,providing all the relevant data about the specific cattle tested.
Professor GrahamBall, a scientist in the School of Science and Technology at Nottingham TrentUniversity, said: The current process for testing cattle is slow andexpensive, but this technology would allow us to address each of thoseproblems. Bovine tuberculosis is a growing challenge, the disease can spreadquickly and easily in the time it currently takes to get a definitiveresult.
“Our system would provide major benefits to farmers in terms of herdmanagement and isolation of bovine TB cases. And the economic benefits to thecountry, specifically through the reduction of testing, analysis andcompensation costs are potentially huge.”
PHE has extensive experience in the design and evaluation of diagnostic testsand being a part of this consortium adds to the effort that PHE is focusing onthe problem of TB re-emergence as a public health issue.