New test could detect liver fluke exposure in minutes

Tech company Mologic has teamed up with the University of Liverpool to develop rapid diagnostic test, which could help tackle flukicide resistance.

Liver fluke exposure in livestock could be diagnosed in just 10 minutes if a new rapid test is proven effective.

Mologic, a leading developer of lateral flow and rapid diagnostic technologies, has announced that it is in the final developmental stages of a pen-diagnostic test with the University of Liverpool, which will allow farmers and vets to diagnose livestock exposure to fluke on farm.

Prevalent in over 70 countries worldwide and a common parasite affecting cattle and sheep in the UK, liver fluke (Fasciola hepatica) is estimated to cost over £2.4 billion in livestock production losses. 

Current diagnostic tests require laboratory analysis, with typical waiting times of a week or more for results. Together with the impracticalities of regathering livestock, many tend to treat without diagnosis, contributing to the development of resistance to flukicide drugs.

The new test, however, detects antibodies circulating in the blood of fluke-infected animals through a blood droplet taken from the ear. Results are available within 10 minutes to allow farmers to make an informed diagnosis and treat at the point of need, providing an innovative solution in liver fluke disease management. Early fluke detection will prevent acute disease in sheep and for beef farmers, the ability to monitor infection at housing. Most importantly, it will allow the implementation of targeted treatment programmes, all of which will aid in slowing the development of flukicide resistance.

Dr Alison Wakeham, project leader, Mologic, said: “In fluke endemic areas, industry practice is often to treat in the absence of any diagnosis. As seen with antibiotics, an overreliance on flukicides gives rise to anthelmintic resistance and poses a significant threat and constraint to livestock production. Farm testing offers the industry a cost-effective route to early diagnosis and an on-the-spot targeted treatment. A positive outcome for the animal, the producer, the processor and the consumer.”

To gain further industry insight to how a pen-side diagnostic test for liver fluke should function, the University of Liverpool and Mologic have launched a short market research survey. They are looking for views from all aspects of the farming industry and urge anyone to take part. The survey should take approximately 10-15 minutes to complete and is available until 10th January 2021. Industry feedback will drive the final test format. A link to the survey can be found here: https://liverpool.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/market-research-survey-for-liver-fluke

Lesley Stubbings representing the Sustainable Control of Parasites (SCOPS) group said: “Testing is a key element in Liver Fluke control and the SCOPS group are excited by the potential for a test that can be used ‘pen-side’ on farm. This would enable farmers to treat only when necessary, ensuring timely treatment while avoiding over-use of flukicides, which is critical if we are to preserve the efficacy of the medicines available to us.”

Rebecca Small on behalf of the Control of Worms Sustainably (COWS) group added: “It is great to see that research is being put into practice. This tool is an exciting development that will provide rapid results allowing farmers to make more informed decisions as to whether an animal needs treated for liver fluke or not.”

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