Major research funding to tackle endemic diseases

Endemic UK livestock diseases including bovine TB, footrot, mastitis and PMWS are to be targeted in a funded research programme worth £11.5m, announced this week.

In a bid to improve the sustainability of the livestock industry and reduce cost of disease on and off-farm, the initiative – Combating Endemic Diseases of Farmed Animals for Sustainability (CEDFAS), led by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) – has awarded 10 grants to researchers working on eight major diseases.

Among the key projects is the use of gene technology to slow the spread of TB. Having increased at a rate of 14% year-on-year since 1998, it is estimated the disease will cost in excess of £1bn between 2004 and 2012, according to Vet Laboratories Agency molecular geneticist Steve Gordon. “There is a need for new control strategies and one area which hasn’t been researched is the evolution of TB causing bacteriums and how they have accelerated spread, thus preventing current control measures.”

Commenting on the 15-year project involved in developing a vaccine – shortly to go to the field trial stage – Dr Gordon explained the vaccine currently used is identical to the BCG used in humans and will, when finalised, have best effect when given neonatally.

Regarding regulatory hurdles, he said any vaccine development had to be done in conjunction with changes to the current diagnostic methods, particularly as the use of a vaccines would undermine tests in their current form.

Costing in excess of £200m a year to the dairy industry, mastitis cases have been relatively stable since the 1980s, despite a definite shift in infections caused by contagious to environmental pathogens, according to James Leigh from Oxford University. “We hope to identify disease causing proteins and use this information to develop a vaccine and identify the most appropriate therapy.”

According to epidemiologist Laura Green, 10% of the UK sheep population are lame at any one time, costing the industry an estimated £31m. Two separate CEDFAS projects, one targeting footrot in sheep and the other digital dermititis in cattle, will investigate the pathogens behind the diseases.

“The main areas will attempt to establish how long bacteria persists in the foot, how environment – such as soil type – affects infection and how bacteria changes within and outside the foot.”

Attention will be paid to the effect climate has on cases of footrot, particularly the wet weather experienced over the past few months. “We know little about the complex disease process which leads to footrot, but we have the technology to pioneer research using computer modelling and molecular techniques to ultimately manage footrot better,” added Prof Green.

Other diseases to receive funding for research include Post-Weaning Multi-Systemic Wasting Syndrome (PMWS) in pigs, infectious bronchitis in chickens, enzootic abortion, ileitis and parasitic nematodes. For more information regarding specific projects visit the BBSRC website ( ).


  • £11.5m funding allocated
  • TB, mastitis and footrot among projects
  • Vaccine for TB in field trial stage