£12M Funding to Tackle Livestock, Poultry Viruses20 November 2012
UK - Two new research projects have been awarded funding to tackle some of the world's most devastating livestock and poultry viruses. The two projects, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), aim to provide novel solutions to combatting the Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus and emerging poultry viruses.
The first collaborative project, "The Molecular Biology of FMDV Replication: Towards New Methods of FMDV Disease Control" has been awarded over £5.6 million to transform the way this disease will be controlled in the future. Rising demand for animal products, together with poor harvests (increased animal feed prices), has led to sustainability of food supplies becoming a UK strategic research priority. The health of farm animals is a vital factor in ensuring we meet growing demands for food.
The project will integrate the work of academics at the Pirbright Institute with those from the Universities of St Andrews, Leeds, Edinburgh and Dundee. The researchers will investigate how the virus grows in, and interacts with, cells and harness the knowledge to develop a new generation of more effective vaccines and improve diagnosis.
FMDV causes one of the most economically important viral diseases of domestic livestock including cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. Since the disease is endemic in many countries, transmission by international travel and trade presents an on-going potential threat to the UK. It is one of the most contagious mammalian viruses and can infect over 70 species of wildlife, greatly increasing the difficulty of disease control - further complicated by the existence of seven distinct serotypes with thousands of strains of the virus.
New developments in methods of studying the molecular biology of this virus, together with the development of new state-of-the art facilities at the Pirbright Institute, present an exciting opportunity to transform our understanding of how this virus grows in cells, to modify the virus genome and to improve diagnosis - all designed to improve the control of FMDV.
Lead researcher Professor Martin Ryan of the University of St Andrews, said: "One approach will be to alter the virus to make new strains that can infect animals without causing disease. These weakened viruses can prompt an immune response from the infected animal, giving it protection from subsequent infection."
The researchers will also attempt to use knowledge of how the virus grows in cells to make a new type of virus that could only grow in specially designed "helper" cells, meaning the virus couldn't then grow in animals. This would make the use of existing conventional vaccines a much safer process.
Professor Ryan added: "The strength of this project arises from combining the expertise from a multi-disciplinary team and the use of state-of-the art research technologies. Success would stimulate the routine use of vaccine to control FMDV around the globe. This would reduce the global incidence of FMD with enormous economic and social value worldwide."
Professor Terry Jackson, from The Pirbright Institute, said: "One of humanity's biggest challenges in coming years will be to meet a growing demand for food. Animal diseases have a major impact on the productivity of the livestock industry and safeguarding animal welfare will be a major component of maximising food production."
Professor Dave Rowlands and Dr Nic Stonehouse will contribute from the University of Leeds. Professor Rowlands said: "New technologies can now enable academic institutions to work safely with non-infectious forms of the virus. This greatly expands the range of specialised techniques that can be applied to the study of this globally important pathogen"
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