A multinational £6M project to develop a novel parasite vaccine for sheep

Published: 16 August 2023

An international team of researchers will work together to develop a new parasite vaccine for sheep, in a new £6m project that could transform how worm infections are controlled in livestock

An international team of researchers will work together to develop a new parasite vaccine for sheep, in a new £6m project that could transform how worm infections are controlled in livestock.

The new project, which includes experts from the University of Glasgow, will use cutting-edge technology and a multi-disciplinary approach to develop much-needed vaccines for gastrointestinal nematodes, parasitic worms which live in the gut.

Image of sheep outdoors on a farm

Infection with nematodes has a major impact on animal farming worldwide, as infections negatively affect the health and welfare of impacted animals. The cost of parasitism in the UK is estimated at approximately £4 per lamb through reduced weight gain and treatment costs, while the total cost to the Australian sheep and goat industry is estimated at more than AU$450 million each year. Infections also indirectly impact greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, affecting our ability to reach Net Zero targets.

Currently, chemical treatments are the mainstay of parasite control programs for nematode infections, but resistance to these treatments severely undermines control options on-farm in many areas of the world. As a result, to allow a sustainable future for sheep farming, vaccines need to be developed. Although progress is being achieved in this area – much of it funded by significant investment from the Scottish Government, UKRI and others – development of a commercial worm vaccine has remained challenging.

However, recent technological advances significantly increase the chances of success and, now, an international, multi-institutional partnership will come together to develop a vaccine. The new project is led by the Moredun Research Institute, partnering with the University of Glasgow and the University of New England, Australia, and will use a multidisciplinary approach to develop an effective vaccine for on-farm worm control.

The project, which also includes colleagues at the James Hutton Institute, includes expertise in parasitology, immunology and vaccine formulation. University of Glasgow researchers will combine their expertise in parasite genome information and gene silencing to determine which components of the parasitic nematodes may be the best targets for vaccination.

The University of Glasgow partner lead, Professor Collette Britton, from the School of Biodiversity, One Health and Veterinary Medicine, said: “This is a great opportunity for the international partners to work together, applying the newest data and technologies, for a much-needed nematode vaccine. It could be transformative for how we control these worm infections in livestock. The outcomes will have wider relevance to vaccine design for other nematode infections.”

This project is co-funded by each of the partners with matched funding from the Australian Federal Government through the Meat & Livestock Australia Donor Company to a total value of just over £6m (AU$ 11m) over 5 years. More than half of the budget will come to the Scottish partners, with the intention to develop a commercially exploitable vaccine against the main gastrointestinal nematodes of sheep globally.

Enquiries: ali.howard@glasgow.ac.uk or elizabeth.mcmeekin@glasgow.ac.uk / 0141 330 6557 or 0141 330 4831

First published: 16 August 2023

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