Project to combat TB in cattle awarded £1.1 million

Developing more effective vaccines against bovine tuberculosis (TB) is the focus of a new project involving the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and led by the Royal Veterinary College.

The consortium will examine the genetic factors behind the survival of M. bovis, the bacteria that causes bovine TB and a close relative of the human pathogen M. tuberculosis, within the bovine system. The group, which also includes the Animal and Plant Health Agency, is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Bovine TB is the greatest animal health threat to the UK. Although the UK has a strategy to control bovine TB, the prevalence and geographical distribution of the disease is increasing. The current control programme, which involves detection and kill, is also estimated to cost £100 million annually. In addition, bovine TB can cause tuberculosis in humans and its increasing frequency could lead to the disease developing into one that affects more and more people.

Tuberculosis in cattle and humans show many similarities and, like the human disease, vaccination could be an effective strategy to control bovine TB. However, the vaccine against human tuberculosis provides limited protection against the disease in both cattle and humans.

This ground-breaking project will use high-throughput sequencing based technologies to determine the genes required for the survival of M. bovis in the bovine host. It will not only reveal an unprecedented amount of information about the basic biology of the organism, it also has the potential to identify future vaccine candidates against both the veterinary and human forms of tuberculosis.    

Brendan Wren, Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis and Co-Principal Investigator of the project, said: "We are delighted to be playing a major role in this important project. Our focus will be on mutating all M. bovis genes to explore how the pathogen causes disease in cattle. This should help pave the way for better diagnosis and improved vaccination of bovine TB."

Mycobacterial determinants of survival and fitness within the bovine host is one of nine projects totalling more than £7 million that have been awarded by the BBSRC, the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research, and DEFRA.

This integrated programme of research aims to promote a step change in bovine TB research leading to the development of novel control and eradication strategies.