Moredun leads the world with parasitic worm breakthrough

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Scientists at Edinburgh’s world-renowned Moredun Research Institute have announced a major breakthrough in the control of parasitic worms in sheep which it is estimated costs the UK sheep industry more than £80 million a year in lost production.

The team at Moredun has successfully developed a laboratory-produced vaccine to protect sheep against worms which it is hoped will lead to a sustainable control strategy which does not rely on drugs.

Team leader Dr Alasdair Nisbet said: “Currently, these pathogens are controlled using drugs. However, drug resistance is rife and occurring with such frequency that development of a vaccine against these worms is now a research priority”.

Scientists at Moredun have identified a number of key proteins produced by the worm which enables it to escape the immune response and to survive and multiply within the animal.

“By immunising sheep with these key proteins, we have demonstrated that vaccinated animals have significantly reduced numbers of adult worms and eggs shed into the environment,” said Nisbet.

Parasitic worms (nematodes) can have profound effects on human and animal health and welfare worldwide. More than a billion humans in the developing world are affected by soil-transmitted nematodes.

When measured in terms of disability-adjusted life years, scientists say their global impact is comparable to that of malaria or tuberculosis.

Infection of livestock with closely related parasitic nematodes can have devastating effects on health and production, affecting food security in developed and developing regions. Despite decades of intensive research, the development of vaccines against these pathogens has been unsuccessful until now.