Apart from antibiotics, dairy farmers have few tools to treat mastitis, a common and costly udder infection in dairy cattle. To add to their tool kit, the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Baker Institute a $642,202 Seeding Solutions grant to explore compounds secreted by stem cells as a potential therapy for mastitis. The New York Farm Viability Institute (NYFVI) and Elanco contributed matching funds for a $1.4 million total investment.
Mastitis is a major economic problem for dairy farmers. Mastitis is the highest incidence disease and the costliest infectious disease of the dairy industry. The infection decreases milk production and quality, sometimes permanently. If antibiotics are required, the milk must be discarded to prevent antibiotic residues in the milk.
In previous studies, University of Cornell researchers Dr. Gerlinde Van de Walle and Dr. Daryl Nydam investigated the beneficial effects of the bovine mammary stem cell secretome, which is all the compounds secreted from lab-grown bovine mammary stem cells. The preliminary work showed that the secretome had antimicrobial properties, prevented damage from bacterial toxins and promoted healing through the growth of blood vessels and recruitment of new cells.
Now, with help from Elanco, Dr. Van de Walle, Dr. Nydam and their team will perform similar experiments with the secretome, but this time in actual cows. The Cornell University researchers are treating mastitis-infected cows using different components of the secretome, to pinpoint which of the secretome’s compounds are responsible for its beneficial effects. In the treated cows, the researchers are looking for any antimicrobial effects, differences in milk production, signs of healing and regeneration of the mammary tissue and changes in the bovine immune system that may help fight the infection. The researchers are also comparing the effects of different types of bovine stem cells.
“The long-term goal would be a natural product that could be an adjunct or even a replacement for antibiotics,” said Van de Walle, “that by itself would be huge.”
“Infections like mastitis, common in dairy cattle, are a major concern among producers as these infections are costly and result in decreased milk production,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “FFAR is thrilled to support this bold research that is identifying alternative treatments to mastitis. If the treatment is effective and affordable, it has the potential for adoption across dairy farms nationwide, resulting in enhanced milk production and farmer profitability.”
Addressing concerns over the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Elanco aims to provide farmers with innovative alternatives to the use of medically important antibiotics.
“Elanco is focused on delivering new innovation to address challenges farmers face, while ensuring people have access to safe, healthy protein that gets to their table through a resilient, sustainable food system,” said Dr. Leane Oliveira, a principal research scientist at Elanco. “Finding alternatives to the use of medically important antibiotics is a key way to make that happen.”
The research also has potential applications beyond mastitis.
“If we find that naturally secreted biomolecules can both replace antibiotics and restore damaged tissue, then this work could be expanded to other livestock, like pigs and chickens, and also other diseases,” said Dr. Van de Walle.