COLLABORATION

UK collaboration aims to prevent overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture

SOURCE: Biotangents
Biotangents is working with CENSIS and the University of Strathclyde to improve livestock disease detection and reduce the use of antibiotics.

The unfettered overuse of antibiotics in livestock and medicine could be what wipes out humanity instead of climate change, England’s chief medical officer said in an alarming warning last week.

The overuse could lead to antibiotics no longer being able to kill the bugs they were designed to kill. When this happens, even a simple wound infection could turn fatal. 

In comments to Sky News ahead of stepping down from her post this September’s end, Professor Dame Sally Davies said the result is antimicrobial resistance, which could kill at least 10 million people per year if no action is taken. 

“We humans are doing it to ourselves, but it could kill us before climate change does. It is a very important area and we are under-investing in sorting it out,” she said.

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To prevent antimicrobial resistance, the UK has cut the amount of antibiotics it uses by more than 7 percent since 2014, with antibiotic sales for use in food-producing animals down by a significant 40 percent, according to The Telegraph.

In spite of this, the number of drug-resistant bloodstream infections increased by 35 percent between 2013 and 2017.

But also of great concern to farmers is the impact of livestock disease, which currently costs the UK economy some £1 billion per year in lost productivity and mitigation, and is a major issue for the global industry. 

Researchers are now exploring alternatives to antibiotics, such as treating the animals preventatively with antibodies. 

A different method is through the use of sensing technology to detect livestock diseases quickly and accurately, allowing for a more targeted use of antibiotics and helping prevent its spread.

This is exactly the objective of a new research collaboration between veterinary diagnostics specialist firm Biotangents, CENSIS, and the University of Strathclyde. 

Overuse of antibiotics
Antibiotics are used to treat livestock diseases. Source: Shutterstock

According to a release on the project, researchers are working on using sensing technology to enhance the accuracy of Biotangents’ point-of-care testing platform, which will help detect common infections in livestock quickly and with accuracy.

The firm’s current testing equipment is used to detect bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) and relies on individual interpretation of the test results. Updating the technology with sensor systems will allow for more definitive results, which in turn would reduce the need for unnecessary antibiotics use in livestock and prevent its overuse.

It’s also much faster; previously, diagnostic test results for livestock diseases could take a week to be returned from a lab. The new and improved test system could produce BVD test results the same day, if not within the hour.

This means vets can extract DNA samples on-site for testing and receive results almost immediately, allowing farmers to quickly isolate the animal for treatment and prevent possible spread of the disease. BVD can easily be passed on by cows simply touching noses or sharing troughs.

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“The management and treatment of infection is essential to helping cattle stay healthy, improving welfare, and ultimately making the industry more sustainable,” said Biotangents Operations Director Andy Hall-Ponselè.

“Five new infectious diseases are emerging each year, and many of these can be passed on to humans. 

“By using our advanced Moduleic Sensing diagnostic platform, we aim to enable vets to identify and manage infectious diseases at the earliest possible opportunity and minimise their chances of spreading,” he added.

Working collaboratively with CENSIS and the University of Strathclyde is what makes this possible, Hall-Ponselè continued.

Dr Damion Corrigan of the University of Strathclyde echoed the view, saying: “Working with Biotangents has been a fantastic opportunity for collaboration between industry and academia and it’s great to see the business taking the next steps to digitising such an important testing system.”

Biotangents has big future plans for the Moduleic Sensing system. Future iterations of the platform is expected to be able to test for several other infections and diseases at the same time, from BVD to mastitis. To advance the development of the technology, the firm has secured a £1.5 million investment in a second round of fundraising.