Researchers with The Roslin Institute in the U.K. are developing a method to speed the creation of vaccines for devastating pig diseases.
They aim to establish a reliable, large-scale system to develop and test vaccines for viral infections such as African swine fever (ASF) and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, the institute said in an announcement.
Researchers are to use stem cell technology to develop a source of white blood cells, identical to those affected by disease in pigs, which can be used to develop vaccines containing live virus, Roslin said.
The team — involving scientists from Roslin and the U.K. Animal & Plant Health Agency — aims to investigate control strategies against ASF virus.
Dr. Tom Burdon, research group leader at Roslin, said, "Stem cell technology applied to vaccine development can not only speed the delivery of results but limit the need for research involving animals. We hope that our efforts will aid the search for effective vaccines against serious diseases, which affect millions of animals and incur great cost to farmers."
Roslin noted that study results are expected to shed light on how diseases such as ASF target white blood cells and how the cells respond to infection.
The approach seeks to improve on current vaccine testing methods that include using blood cells derived from other animal species or from other types of cells that resemble blood cells.
Stem cells — those in the early stage of development that also can differentiate into blood cells — hold promise as a source of blood cells as they are likely to be free of contamination with disease, leading to accurate, reliable results, Roslin said.
Genetic modification techniques may allow researchers to develop more efficient production of blood cells. This approach also may enable scientists to explore whether lab-produced blood cells can contain high levels of virus in order to make them effective for vaccine development, the institute explained.
In addition, the application of genome editing technology to blood and virus cells could aid in the understanding of the role genes play in infectivity, immune response and resistance to disease.
The study is funded by a Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council’s Impact Acceleration Account and commercial partner Roslin Technologies Ltd. It was supported by Edinburgh Innovations, the University of Edinburgh’s commercialization service.
"This exciting project, in which University of Edinburgh technology is translated into industrial applications, holds promise in tackling a significant challenge for pig producers, ultimately improving animal welfare and food security," Sian Ringrose with Edinburgh Innovations said.
Professor Jacqui Matthews, Roslin Technologies chief technology officer, added, "We are delighted to support this innovative project to generate tools to investigate key production diseases of pigs. These have major health and welfare implications for the industry. This project aligns well with Roslin Technologies’ mission to improve biological efficiency in the livestock sector as well as with the company’s Animal Cells platform to develop multiple species cell lines to support screening of vaccines and therapeutics and cell therapies."