Helminth parasites, including gastro-intestinal nematodes, lungworm and liver fluke, are pernicious and persistent infections that reduce the productivity of sheep and cattle and can lead to the death of the animal. Parasitic diseases are identified in the top five diseases that most concern livestock farmers and the cost of controlling these infections was estimated at €1.8 billion in 18 European countries. Anthelmintics (medicines that kill helminth infections) are the mainstay of helminth control in UK. Anthelmintics are traditionally used at specific times of year, whole management groups are normally treated each time, typically in the absence of any diagnosis.  As a result of their extensive use, anthelmintic resistance is now widespread. Trying to avoid further evolution and spread of resistance, and to preserve their remaining efficacy, there is increasing recognition that diagnostics are vital to guide their use, such that only infected animals are treated with the right product at the right time. This should be seen in the context of climate change, which is altering the epidemiology of many parasitic diseases, resulting in changes in transmission patterns leading to challenge at unexpected times of year and considerable year to year variation. This means treating at traditional times of year no longer aligns with when animals become infected.

Industry advisory bodies such as Control of Parasites Sustainably (COWS) and Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) recommend diagnosing infection before animals are treated. However, in many cases we lack diagnostic tests that can provide rapid results to guide treatment. Rapid diagnostic tests (RDT) that can be used on farms by farmers and vets to provide diagnostic information within 10 minutes, will offer more sustainable control options. We will build on existing work, in which we have produced a lateral flow test to diagnose infection with the parasite, liver fluke.

The aims of this project are firstly to establish how to deliver rapid, on-farm diagnostic tests effectively and successfully to the industry in a way that RDTs are taken up widely, applied and interpreted correctly to ensure their use is sustainable. We will use the liver fluke lateral flow diagnostic test (LF-LFT) as a test case and work with farmers, vets and animal health advisors, to co-develop a final product that meets the industry’s needs. We will involve stakeholders to co-develop a proof-of-principle digital platform to aid interpretation of results and empower farmers and vets to make the right treatment decisions.  Secondly, we will build on our knowledge and experience around the development of the LF-LFT, exploiting outputs from our current research, to develop a second-generation LF-LFT based on a cocktail of recombinant antigens and develop a proof-of-concept LFT for the bovine lungworm, Dictyocaulus viviparus. To achieve these aims, we have identified four objectives:

Objective 1: Co-designing the optimum way to offer rapid diagnostic tests to the industry to maximise their uptake.

Objective 2: Co-creating a digital readout for a lateral flow test to ensure it is fit for purpose and meets farmers’ needs.

Objective 3: Future proofing the liver fluke lateral flow diagnostic test by developing a second-generation LFT using a cocktail of recombinant antigens.

Objective 4: Developing a prototype lateral flow test for bovine lungworm, based on the methodology perfected for the liver fluke lateral flow test.

We will work with a UK pharmaceutical company, a biotechnology company, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, farmers and veterinarians to deliver these objectives.

The project will deliver a better understanding of how to encourage the industry to adopt RDTs as they become available. It will demonstrate how results from those tests can be interpreted in a manner that suits most farmers and finally it will deliver a second-generation liver fluke lateral flow test and a lungworm diagnostic test to a point where a commercial partner can consider taking them to full commercialisation. The results from the project will be delivered to project participants in the first instance and then rolled out to the industry through KE programmes supported by our project partners.

Contact details:

Professor DJ Williams

Liverpool University