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New blood test detects bovine TBNew blood test detects bovine TB

Bacteriophage-based test can detect any type of mycobacteria, such as Johne's disease, in any species of livestock.

Tim Lundeen 1

June 1, 2016

3 Min Read
New blood test detects bovine TB

A new blood test to detect mycobacteria in blood has been developed by a team at The University of Nottingham in the U.K.

The team was led by Dr. Cath Rees, an expert in microbiology in the Nottingham School of Biosciences, and Dr. Ben Swift from the university's School of Veterinary Medicine & Science.

The researchers have used this new method to show that cattle diagnosed with bovine tuberculosis (TB) have detectable levels of the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis in their blood; the bacterium causes this disease.

A paper, "Evidence of Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Complex Bacteraemia in Intradermal Skin Test Positive Cattle Detected Using Phage-RPA," was been published online in the peer-reviewed medical journal Virulence.

"This test delivers results within 48 hours, and the frequency in which viable mycobacteria were detected in the blood of skin test-positive animals changes the paradigm of this disease," Rees said.

This simple and inexpensive new blood test detects very low levels of mycobacteria in blood using a bacteriophage-based technique developed at The University of Nottingham. The group has patented an improved version of the method that delivers results in just six hours. More recently, "proof of principle" experiments have shown that this method is even more sensitive.

The test is currently licensed to a spin-off company, PBD Biotech Ltd.

Bovine TB is a zoonotic infectious disease. The U.K., as well as other countries around the world, have struggled to eradicate bovine TB, and control measures continue to be a significant economic burden on the agriculture industry.

Routine testing for bovine TB uses the single intradermal comparative cervical tuberculin (SICCT) skin test for M. bovis infection, and healthy cattle are regularly tested this way. However, it is known that this test is only 90% sensitive, at best, and misses many infected animals.

“The data we are getting has taken the scientific community by surprise," Rees said. "In our paper, we show that when blood samples from skin test-negative cattle were tested for M. bovis cells, all the samples proved negative. However, using just a 2 mL blood sample, viable mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTC) bacteria were detected in 66% of samples from skin test-positive animals. When the carcasses were inspected, it was found that the highest number of bacteria were detected in the animals with visible TB lesions (VL), and 85% of these VL animals were M. bovis positive.

“More excitingly, using our new, more sensitive, six-hour method, this figure is even higher: All animals with visible lesions were MTC positive, and even 26 out of 28 animals where the lesions were not yet visible also were positive, suggesting that M. bovis is commonly found in the circulating blood of infected animals,” Rees added.

Difficulties in detecting, growing cultures and achieving sensitive detection using the current skin test, which looks for the animal’s immune response, are a major barrier to understanding and diagnosing bovine TB infection. Early results indicate that M. bovis can be detected before the animal becomes SICCT positive.

“Using our bacteriophage-based test, the hope is that we can help improve herd control by finding animals at the early stages of infection and helping farmers control outbreaks of (bovine TB) more rapidly,” Rees said.

Working with the National Animal Disease Center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, the Nottingham group has set up the first animal trial using the blood test to detect M. bovis in the blood of experimentally infected animals to determine exactly how soon this test can detect infection.

“The test also offers the potential for new, better tests for other farm animals," Rees added. "We are directly detecting the bacteria, so the method will work using blood samples from any animal species. So far, we have detected mycobacteria in the blood of cattle, sheep and horses, but it could also be used for deer, goats or llamas. Not only that, we can detect any type of mycobacteria; we have use the same method to detect other diseases such as Johne’s disease, not just (bovine TB).”

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