University of St Andrews project aims to create new Foot and Mouth vaccine

Millions of cattle were destroyed during the last major Foot and Mouth outbreak. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Millions of cattle were destroyed during the last major Foot and Mouth outbreak. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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SCOTTISH biologists are hoping to find a new vaccine to combat Foot and Mouth Disease in livestock.

• £5.6million research project set up

• Research to look at new vaccines that can be used worldwide

• Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 saw millions of animals destroyed

Foot and Mouth Disease Virus (FMDV) is one of the most contagious viruses in domestic livestock including cattle, sheep, goats and pigs.

A new £5.6million research project, led by the University of St Andrews, has been set up to look for new ways of preventing the disease.

Study leader Professor Martin Ryan said: “Success would stimulate the routine use of vaccine to control foot-and-mouth disease virus around the globe. This would reduce the incidence of Foot and Mouth Disease with enormous economic and social value worldwide.”

The expert, Professor of Translational Virology in the School of Biology at St Andrews University, said the team would look at how the virus grows in, and interacts with, cells and harness that knowledge to develop a new generation of more effective vaccines and improve diagnosis.Current vaccines must be refrigerated and require multiple boosters, making them difficult to administer in areas of the world, such as Africa, where the virus is endemic.

He said: “One approach will be to alter the virus to make new strains that can infect animals without causing disease. These weakened viruses can prompt an immune response from the infected animal, giving it protection from subsequent infection.”

The researchers will also attempt to use knowledge of how the virus grows in cells to make a new type of virus that could only grow in specially designed “helper” cells, meaning the virus couldn’t then grow in animals. This would make the use of existing conventional vaccines a much safer process.

FMDV is one of the most contagious mammalian viruses and can infect more than 70 species of wildlife, greatly increasing the difficulty of disease control which is further complicated by the thousands of different strains of the virus.

The outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in 2001 cost the UK economy billions and millions of animals had to be destroyed.

Study partner Professor Terry Jackson, from The Pirbright Institute, said: “One of humanity’s biggest challenges in coming years will be to meet a growing demand for food.

“Animal diseases have a major impact on the productivity of the livestock industry and safeguarding animal welfare will be a major component of maximising food production.”