“Cost sharing for disease control” may seem like an extreme statement, but for the UK’s largest animal health research institute, established by farmers in 1920s, Moredun is a well established example of a public-private partnership, according to scientific director Julie Fitzpatrick, speaking at the institute’s annual press day.

“Looking at Moredun’s set-up it is a potential blueprint for cost and responsibility sharing among government and stakeholders, including primary producers, associated support industries, food processors and food retailers. Moredun’s blueprint is what England wants,” she believes.

The critical link with farmers is still maintained with 2500 members made up from the farming, vet and associated industries with four of the boards chaired by farmers. But for this to work, the £6.5m funding from the Scottish Government is crucial.

Prof Fitzpatrick makes it clear co-operation in the industry is vital if climate change and food security are to be tackled. “Dealing with endemic diseases is crucial for climate change, for those diseases hindering production it is wasted methane,” she said.

And Moredun’s set-up could have worldwide implications for animal health and welfare, since it is on the verge of making a breakthrough with the development of a vaccine for the barber’s-pole worm, Haemonchus contortus. “The vaccine is being trialled in Australia next year and, if this proves successful, it will be groundbreaking for nematode control,” she explained.

Vaccine development is the practical output from research and as well as moving vaccine research findings into commercial success possibly for pneumonia and caseous lymphadenitis, there is also research into a vaccine and diagnostic tests for the common, but under diagnosed Neospora caninum.

As much as 22% of all cattle abortions and reproductive failure could be as a result of Neospora caninum, a parasite spread by dogs. And with reproductive failure in the top three for financial loss, farmers must be aware of this, said Moredun’s Neospora specialist Elisabeth Innes.

The survey conducted by Moredun Research Institute with colleagues at SAC Vet Service in south-west Scotland found 22% of all cattle abortion samples submitted for diagnosis contained Neospora caninum.

This is substantially more than any other pathogen, said Dr Innes. “Neospora caninum is a parasite which causes abortion and reproductive failure in dairy and beef cattle worldwide, with cattle becoming infected through consumption of feed or water contaminated with the parasite eggs which are shed by infected dogs.

The problem with Neospora is the eggs can persist in the environment for long periods, but there are no drugs which can kill the parasite, says Dr Innes. “The other is cattle, once infected, show few clinical symptoms and this means problems occur in the pregnant animal where the parasite invades the placenta infecting the developing foetus.”

Neospora infected animals are three to seven times more likely to have an abortion compared to uninfected cattle, but the problem is knowing which cattle have it, added Dr Innes. “Because of transmission from mother to foetus, Neospora transmission could be continuous, passing through generations and, therefore, making it difficult to control,” she added.

“At Moredun we have found infection of the foetus early in pregnancy is likely to cause foetal death, whereas infection later in preganancy may result in birth of a live, but congenitally infected animal.”

But scientists at Moredun are hoping current work on new genetic techniques to help detect the parasite in infected animals will be successful as well as a vaccine currently being worked on in the bid to help control the disease.

“The most important tool we need is a test for the parasite. Studies of naturally infected cattle in the field suggest congenitally infected animals do not develop good immunity, therefore, it may be best to target a vaccine to protect uninfected cattle and to identify and cull congenitally infected cattle,” explained Dr Innes.

Neospora caninum

  • Causes up to 22% of abortions
  • Spread by infected dogs
  • Transmitted to foetus
  • Vaccine and tests in development