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Grants for new disease diagnostic techniques – a sound investment in human and animal health

Scientists are working on new diagnostic techniques that use ultrasound to detect and manage a range of infectious diseases in humans and animals.

The researchers have received three grants to develop new techniques and mobile devices that can be used to diagnose a range of conditions by analysing samples of blood, urine, semen.

The team from the University of Glasgow has already patented a technique that uses ultrasound. The biggest tranche of funding – £440,000 – is from the BBSRC to develop a device to help detect infectious diseases in cows and buffaloes in India – with a focus on brucellosis, leptospirosis and infectious bovine rhinotracheitis.

India is now the world’s largest dairy producer, with around 125 billion litres milk produced each year and sustaining this ‘white revolution’ is a vital component in agricultural policy, requiring new diagnostic methods to help break the cycle of infection and control rates of transmission in dairy animals.

These diseases affect the livestock’s reproductive organs, reducing fertility and resulting in loss of milk production – with a significant impact on agricultural output. All of them have a particularly high prevalence in India, and other Asian, African and South American countries as well as being of significant economic importance in the developed world, including the UK.

Professor Jon Cooper, of the School of Engineering, said: “Simple observation by animal owners and producers is not sufficient to accurately diagnose the disease, which often goes unnoticed, particularly during the early stage of infection.

“In this proposal, we plan to develop low-cost, rapid and sensitive multiplexed diagnostic assays for the three diseases, with the aim of screening cows in the dairy herd and bulls at the artificial insemination station – where such diagnostics will have the greatest impact.”

The device will use ultrasound technology already patented by Dr Julien Reboud to help separate DNA from cellular material and enable multiple tests to be run simultaneously on one sample.

The proposal brings together the Biomedical Engineering Group in the University of Glasgow, World Organisation for Animal Health/World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre, Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratory Agency, Weybridge, the Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar.

Two other grants from the Technology Strategy Board also involve using ultrasound to aid detection and diagnosis – focused on tuberculosis in humans and animals.

The MilkED project aims to develop a device to rapidly detect pathogens in milk, within the milk parlour or milk tank. It is focused on Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis, a pathogen infecting cattle and other ruminants, causing chronic diarrhoea, emaciation, and often leading to death.

In addition to detrimental effects on the health of herds, leading to significant decrease in milk production, it is present in milk and resists pasteurisation, and may survive to be present in milk at the point of sale.

The MilkED industrial research programme is business led by manufacturing company Epigem, working in partnership with medical diagnostics company MV Diagnostics, in collaboration with the University.

The third project, MIMIC, aims to develop a ‘point-of-care’ system to diagnose TB, based on a blood sample from a finger-prick in a matter of minutes. It assembles a business-led consortium with a wide range of expertise, from clinical TB experts, caring for with patients at three different University Hospitals across the UK, to engineering and biology experts.

With one third of the world’s population currently infected with tuberculosis (TB) and nine million new cases of active TB every year, the quick diagnosis of TB can aid health management and prevent the infection spreading through the community. Epigem is also heavily involved in this project.

Tim Ryan, Epigem’s managing director, said: “I am pleased to be working with Glasgow University on these projects which as well as addressing serious human and animal healthcare problems, will also improve the nutritional benefits of milk”

“These projects will apply microfluidics technology in real life situations, empowering healthcare practitioners with more effective tools for the early diagnosis of TB and paraTB.”

The grants build upon the recent success of the Glasgow team in commercialisation of low cost human diagnostics, involving ‘point of care’ testing. Included in these new diagnostics will be a new patented method for integrating sample preparation from crude samples, enabling access to DNA from cellular materials.

 

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