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Parks Canada plains bison.jpg Photo: Parks Canada
Plains bison in Riding Mountain National Park.

Canadian trial to test bovine TB diagnostic tool in bison

Improved TB diagnosis could support management of infected animals and reduce disease prevalence over time.

To help protect Canada’s cattle and bison and maintain the country’s bovine tuberculosis (TB)-free status, scientists from University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) Vaccine & Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) and Parks Canada are conducting trials in bison of several bovine TB diagnostic tools, including the Actiphage blood test developed by the diagnostics company PBD Biotech.

According to the announcement, Actiphage is a rapid and accurate test for detecting in a blood sample even very low levels of mycobacteria such as Mycobacterium bovis (bovine TB) and Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (Johne’s Disease). The results are available within hours, enabling early detection and improved disease management. The blood test has been successfully tested in humans and 20 species of animals, but never before in bison, USask said.

While a successful Canadian bovine TB control program has been in place since 1924, USask said bison herds in Wood Buffalo National Park -- which straddles the Alberta border with the Northwest Territories -- include TB-infected animals.

Improved TB diagnosis could support management of infected animals, for which there are currently few options, and reduce the prevalence of the disease over time, USask noted.

The team will experimentally infect bison in VIDO-InterVac’s containment Level 3 facility and test them at various time points using several diagnostic tools. This benchmarking will provide useful insights into the progression of the disease and reliability of the tests in bison, USask said.

“Detecting tuberculosis in livestock and wild animals is an issue worldwide, and this trial will provide scientific data that has the potential to improve detection and control of a disease that can be devastating to the agricultural industry,” said VIDO-InterVac director Volker Gerdts. “It’s another example of how our state-of-the-art containment Level 3 facility is helping to provide solutions to infectious disease challenges on a worldwide scale.”

The team also plans to test whether vaccines proven effective in cattle can protect bison, USask said. Scientists will study the immune response to these vaccines and use the diagnostic tools and culture to determine the effectiveness of the vaccines in bison.

USask said an important feature of the Actiphage test is its ability to detect viable mycobacteria in a blood sample. In addition, it is able to differentiate among animals that are vaccinated and those that are infected. This creates the potential to vaccinate animals to protect them from the disease.

“Canada is the first place to try to validate the Actiphage test in bison,” said Luis Martin of PBD Biotech, a U.K. company with a new Canadian subsidiary in Saskatoon, Sask.

The study will help demonstrate — pending regulatory approval — that Actiphage may be used with wild animals and in zoos for disease management.

Funding for the trial is provided in part by VIDO-InterVac and Parks Canada.

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