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20 November 2012

Dundee in £5.6m project to find effective vaccine for Foot and Mouth Disease

Study will examine how virus grows in order to make new vaccines and improve diagnosis.

A £5.6million research project involving the University of Dundee aims to find a new vaccine to combat Foot and Mouth Disease in livestock.

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

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.

The study is being led by the University of St Andrews and also involves the Pirbright Institute, and the Universities of Dundee, Edinburgh and Leeds.

Professor Martin Ryan, Professor of Translational Virology in the School of Biology at the University of St Andrews, and an international expert in the field, will lead the study.

He said: "Success would stimulate the routine use of vaccine to control foot-and-mouth disease virus around the globe.

"This would reduce the global incidence of Foot and Mouth Disease with enormous economic and social value worldwide."

The study will investigate 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.

Professor Ryan explained: "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.

Professor Ryan added: "The strength of this project arises from combining the expertise from a multi-disciplinary team and the use of state-of-the art research technologies."

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has awarded the £5.6m to the five year project.

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 existence of seven distinct serotypes with thousands of strains of the virus.

Outbreaks of FMDV in the UK in 2001 and 2007 had devastating effects on farming. The 2001 outbreak cost the UK economy billions and millions of animals had to be destroyed.

Professor Angus Lamond, Professor in Biochemistry at the University of Dundee said: "We are excited to apply the world-leading expertise in proteomics and virology in the Dundee and St Andrews groups to make a major impact to combatting the devastating effects of FMDV.

"This project underlines the high level of collaboration and synergy between research teams in Scotland's leading Universities."

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."

Professor Rowlands, from the University of Leeds said: "New technologies can now enable academic institutions to work safely with non-infectious forms of the virus.

"This greatly expands the range of specialised techniques that can be applied to the study of this globally important pathogen."

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