The use of miRNA for Johne's disease early diagnosis

Project Details


Johne's disease is an incurable, infectious, wasting disease of cattle, sheep and other production species. The causative agent, Mycobacteriaum avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP), is endemic in the UK causing significant economic losses, particularly in dairy and beef farming. This is a global problem, however, with the disease listed as a notifiable animal disease (World Organisation for Animal Health). Calves are typically infected early in life but current diagnostic tests remain negative for several years, until after the animal has begun to infect others. Therefore, Johne's disease is impossible for farmers to avoid and is often introduced to a herd through replacement stock. Spreading of contaminated slurry also poses an infection risk. It is challenging to quantify the extent of production losses faced by UK farmers because there are no reliable diagnostics to aid in assessment of prevalence. Estimates are placed at around 30-50% of UK cattle herds currently being affected. Commonly; weight loss, reduced milk yield of around 25%, high somatic cell counts of >100,000, susceptibility to other disease and problems with reproduction, growth and increased requirement for feeding are cited as associated issues. Increased greenhouse gas emissions, of up to 40% for each unit of meat, have been suggested for infected cows. This fatal disease has no 'gold standard' test available. Current testing cannot detect subclinical disease and lacks sensitivity for clinical cases. This project aims to assess the feasibility of using novel, next generation, biomarker testing combined with Artificial Intelligence modelling to successfully detect early stage Johne's disease. Our sensitive and accurate testing method would pave the way for disease eradication the long term aim of the agricultural industry. In so doing, the sector would benefit from increased productivity, mitigation of economic losses and assistance in achieving a sustainable, carbon neutral business model. To meet these key objectives, MI:RNA will deploy their unique, patent pending, technology leading to creation of a new product for the veterinary diagnostics market. This commercial venture, blended with the research expertise of colleagues within SRUC, can revolutionise the agricultural industry and it is anticipated that a suite of early detection, agricultural testing will be forthcoming following success of this study. MI:RNA Ltd has freedom to operate, is currently patent pending and will protect the IP generated. The company has already proven the concept of biomarker testing through production of the first microRNA test for the companion animal veterinary market. This study will replicate this successful approach and, as microRNAs are conserved across species, and backed by biomarker research in cattle and other ruminants, the technology will be easily transferable. We plan to:
1) Create a bespoke biomarker panel capable of identifying early stage Johne's disease
2) Analyse overflow samples and generated data deriving from SRUC Vet Services and companies in England to give longevity to the study
3) Utilise our custom AI model to establish early disease recognition and whether prediction of disease is possible
This approach will launch MI:RNA into the agricultural sphere, extending the company's product range prior to competitors. This development targets one of the most difficult gaps in the diagnostic market resulting in a scalable opportunity for the company, both nationally and internationally. The company will look to raise further investment following completion of the study.
The assembled team plans to work with farmers across the UK through collaborations with local organisations (e.g. SOSENT). 
Effective start/end date1/02/2331/07/24


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