Scientists are developing a method to speed the creation of vaccines for devastating pig diseases.
They aim to establish a reliable, large-scale system to develop and test vaccines for viral infections such as African swine fever, a highly contagious, potentially fatal disease, and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, which is widespread in commercial herds around the world.
Researchers are using stem cell technology to develop a source of white blood cells, identical to those affected by disease in pigs, which can be used to develop vaccines containing live virus.
The team, involving scientists from the Roslin Institute and the Animal and Plant Health Agency, aims to investigate control strategies against ASF virus.
Results from the study are expected to shed light on how diseases such as ASF target white blood cells, and how the cells respond to infection.
The approach seeks to improve on current vaccine testing methods, which include using blood cells derived from other animal species, or from other types of cells that resemble blood cells.
"Stem cell technology applied to vaccine development can not only speed the delivery of results but limit the need for research involving animals," says Tom Burdon, research group leader, Roslin Institute. "We hope that our efforts will aid the search for effective vaccines against serious diseases, which affect millions of animals and incur great cost to farmers."
The team says stem cells – those in early stage of development, which can differentiate into blood cells – hold promise as a source of blood cells as they are likely to be free of contamination with disease, leading to accurate, reliable results.
Genetic modification techniques may also enable researchers to develop more efficient production of blood cells. This approach may also enable scientists to explore whether lab-produced blood cells are able to contain high levels of virus, making them effective for vaccine development.
In addition, the application of genome editing technology to blood and virus cells could aid understanding of the role of genes in infectivity, immune response and resistance to disease.
The study is funded by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council's Impact Acceleration Account and commercial partner Roslin Technologies Ltd. It was supported by Edinburgh Innovations, the University of Edinburgh's commercialization service.
"This exciting project, in which University of Edinburgh technology is translated into industrial applications, holds promise in tackling a significant challenge for pig producers, ultimately improving animal welfare and food security," says Sian Ringrose, Edinburgh Innovations.
"We are delighted to support this innovative project to generate tools to investigate key production diseases of pigs," says Jacqui Matthews, professor and chief technology officer, Roslin Technologies. "These have major health and welfare implications for the industry. This project aligns well with Roslin Technologies' mission to improve biological efficiency in the livestock sector, as well as with the company's Animal Cells platform to develop multiple species cell lines to support screening of vaccines and therapeutics, and cell therapies."