Scientists join global battle to help control the pandemic
Scientists at The Pirbright Institute have begun testing new coronavirus vaccines for their ability to protect against SARS-CoV-2, the strain responsible for the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The work, which is being carried out in collaboration with the University of Oxford and Public Health England (PHE), will test new vaccines for their ability to induce protective antibodies against SARS-C0V-2.
Among them includes a chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine vector (ChAdOx1), which is soon to enter human phase I clinical trials and has been used to create vaccines for diseases like Ebola and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS).
Each vaccine candidate used in the trial will contain the spike protein from SARS-CoV-2, the protein against which protective antibodies are generated in infected patients. The vaccines will be administered to pigs, and the team will assess whether the antibodies can block SARS-CoV-2 from infecting cells.
The pig immune system is closely related to humans, so a good response to a vaccine in the pigs will help researchers predict the success of vaccines for use in humans. Scientists will also assess the safety of the new vaccines and monitor any adverse effects in the pigs.
Pirbright director, Professor Bryan Charleston, explained: “The ChAdOx1 vector vaccine developed by Oxford will be used in this SARS-CoV-2 vaccine research as it can generate a strong immune response with just a single dose.
"The vaccine vector is non-replicating which means it cannot cause ongoing infection in an individual, making it safer to use for those with underlying health conditions like diabetes. This approach has been used in other vaccines and we are hopeful that this research will enable this vaccine to move into the next stage of human testing."
Dr Toby Tuthill, head of the virus programme at Pirbright, added: “This work is a fantastic collaboration between world-leading medical and veterinary scientists in immunology, virology and molecular biology.
“It will provide an evaluation of new SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in a relevant model and will also generate a panel of antibody-based tools which will help us understand virus structure and how it stimulates the immune response. These antibodies could also be developed as additional novel therapeutics to treat COVID-19.”
Social distancing for veterinary teams
Current government advice states that veterinary practices must reduce face to face contact immediately, in order to reduce transmission of COVID-19. This article covers several methods of introducing social distancing measures in practice, whilst continuing to provide veterinary care.
Alternative communication methods
Use of technology, such as video or telephone calls, can be used to carry out certain consultations remotely. This also offers an alternative mode of working from home for veterinary surgeons.
Additionally, web tools – such as online chat support – emails and text messages can be used to maintain effective communication. Clients can be asked to send photos of their pets using these platforms, to aid in examinations and triage.
Limiting footfall in practice
If a client needs to visit the practice, social distancing can be maintained by requesting that only one person accompanies an animal per appointment, as well as by asking clients to wait in their cars, allowing staff to bring animals into the building for examination.
Clients can also be asked to wait in the carpark to collect prescriptions. Or these could be posted to the client's home.
If you have any suggestions on how to further reduce face to face contact in veterinary practices, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
The British Veterinary Association has called on veterinary practices to help the NHS in the fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
In a tweet, the BVA urged anyone with NHS-compatible human ventilators and other equipment to lend them to hospitals.
Other items practices may wish to donate include monitors, anaesthetic machines, PPE - and any other equipment that is not being used for emergency animal care.
If you think your practice may be able to assist the NHS, please click here to register your interest.
Government advice for all UK residents
The UK government has asked everyone in the country to practise social distancing, limiting contact with other people and avoiding unnecessary travel. Whereas anyone displaying flu-like symptoms – or anyone living with someone who is – is being told to self-isolate. This article will clarify what these two phrases mean for all of us.
Everyone in the UK is being asked to take social distancing steps, to reduce transmission of COVID-19 between people. Social distancing means trying to avoid contact with other people by avoiding public spaces where possible. The government issued guidance states that this should include:
- avoiding contact with anyone displaying symptoms of COVID-19
- limiting use of public transport
- working from home, where possible
- avoiding social venues such as pubs, clubs and theatres.
These actions should be carried out in addition to increased handwashing and good respiratory hygiene. The government is advising people who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 to be particularly strict in following social distancing measures.
According to the government advice, anyone experiencing a persistent cough or high temperature should self-isolate at home for seven days. The NHS has stated that after seven days, if you still have a cough but no temperature, you no longer need to stay at home.
If you live with someone who has symptoms, the government states that you should self-isolate for 14 days from the day their symptoms started, as it can take 14 days for symptoms to appear.
Self-isolation will help to contain any possible cases of COVID-19 and will limit the spread to other people, most crucially, those who are considered ‘at risk’.
If you are self-isolating, you should stay indoors and avoid contact with other people. In practical terms this means you should:
- stay at home
- not go to work, school or public areas
- not use public transport
- avoid having visitors at your home
- ask friends and family members to retrieve essentials like groceries and medications. Or use delivery services.
People who are self-isolating are being asked not to call their GP or NHS 111 to report their symptoms. If your condition worsens or you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home, government guidance states that you should use the NHS 111 online service or call 111 if you cannot get help online.
For more information, please visit www.gov.uk
UK scientists have begun work on coronavirus vaccine for use in animals to prevent the future emergence of diseases such as COVID-19.
Plymouth-based firm The Vaccine Group (TVG) is working in partnership with Shanghai Veterinary Research Institute in China and Kansas State University. They aim to develop a vaccine designed to prevent COVID-19 and related coronaviruses jumping from animals into humans.
TVG, which is also working on vaccines to combat bovine tuberculosis and African swine fever, believes it is the only company adopting such an approach.
“As COVID-19 has shown, the spillover of disease from animals to humans can have a very high social, economic and commercial cost globally,” explained TVG founder and chief scientific officer, associate professor Dr Michael Jarvis.
“Naturally there has been a swift move into funding the development of human vaccines and therapeutics, but to date, we are not aware of any approaches to eliminate COVID-19 in the animal population to prevent future outbreaks or re-emergence of the disease.“
He continued: “The animal species involved in emergence of COVID-19 remain unclear. We believe that such a vaccine tool may be vital for control of COVID-19 as well as other emerging coronaviruses.”
The research is backed by more than £9 million in grant funding from the Chinese, UK and US Governments.
WHO advice for preventing infection
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is advising everyone to regularly and thoroughly clean their hands in order to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The guidance states that washing your hands properly should take between 20 and 30 seconds, and should be done more often than usual, particularly after sneezing, coughing, blowing your nose or after being in public spaces where other people are doing so.
Hands should be washed with soap and water – or alcohol-based rub if this is all you have access to – and dried thoroughly afterwards.
The organisation also emphasises the importance of avoiding touching your face as this can transfer the infection to your eyes, nose and mouth, increasing the chance of the virus entering your body.
For more information please visit the WHO website at www.who.int
Government advice to protect the elderly and the vulnerable
The government is advising that we all take social distancing steps to reduce interaction between people to slow the transmission of COVID-19.
The guidance advises those who are at increased risk of COVID-19 to be especially stringent in following these measures. This group includes those aged 70 or over, under 70 with an underlying health condition and those who are pregnant.
The government’s advice, which is likely to be in place for some weeks, includes:
1. Avoiding contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of COVID-19. These symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough.
2. Avoiding non-essential use of public transport, varying your travel times to avoid rush hour, when possible.
3. Working from home, where possible. Your employer should support you to do this. Please refer to employer guidance for more information.
4. Avoiding large gatherings, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars, clubs.
5. Avoiding gatherings with friends and family. Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media.
6. Using telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services.
The government states: “Everyone should be trying to follow these measures as much is pragmatic”.
For more information and guidance on social distancing in the UK, please visit www.gov.uk
Facility will study how to produce livestock that are genetically more resistant to disease
A new £25 million facility designed to boost research into livestock and human health has been opened at the University of Edinburgh.
The Large Animal Research Imaging Facility (LARIF) will research how to produce livestock that are genetically more resistant to disease. Based at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies’ Easter Bush Campus, the facility will also research and develop improved vaccines for animals.
Furthermore, scientists at the facility will safeguard human health by helping to tackle food-borne infections and developing strategies against antimicrobial resistance.
The LARIF leverages state-of-the-art technology to offer in-depth studies into the health and wellbeing of all major farm livestock, including surgical, gene-editing and infection containment facilities.
Also housed at the LARIF is the Wellcome Trust-funded Critical Care Laboratory for Large Animals, which supports the study of large animal biology with all the resources of a human hospital.
European and RCVS-registered specialists in veterinary anaesthesia will provide 24-hour care for the animals involved in studies in the facility. Advanced, onsite-medical imaging equipment will also allow studies into degenerative and neurological diseases, body composition and the anatomy of large animals.
The facility was officially opened by Professor John Loughhead, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. He said that agricultural technologies are important in supporting the agriculture industry to cut its emissions and develop sustainable farming practices.
“The LARIF illustrates the positive effects of successful collaboration between academia, industry and the Government in spreading knowledge and expertise while developing the technologies of the future,” he added.
Besides seeking to further understand livestock diseases, researchers at LARIF will also investigate human conditions. This means that treatments developed in large animals are more likely to be successful in people than those tested using rats and mice, helping to reduce the number of animals used overall.
"The LARIF is a unique and world-leading facility that significantly enhances our ability to study human and animal health,” said Professor David John Argyle, head of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. “Taking this multidisciplinary approach is a key focus for the University and can lead to significant advances in medicine, veterinary medicine and agricultural science.”
Image (C) University of Edinburgh.
‘Biological marker’ could inform positive lifestyle changes
Scientists from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) have announced that research into the DNA of cows could go on to help human geneticists in assessing how we can lead healthier, longer lives.
In a study of the lives of 700 cows, more than 2,000 blood samples were taken. SRUC scientists discovered that the weeks and months after birth are when telomeres – which protect the end of chromosomes – deteriorate the most, indicating how long and healthy an animal could live.
Telomeres reduce every time a cell divides because the mechanism that repairs the DNA strands is not 100 per cent effective. The study also revealed that factors such as stress and illness can affect telomeres, and although they cannot be genetically altered in humans, studies into their deterioration is helping scientists prolong life.
Professor Mike Coffey, head of animal and vet science at SRUC said: “The data we have collected is the biggest in the world on repeat measure of telomere length on the same animal over time so it is very valuable.
“We found that most of the loss of telomere length takes place early in the animal’s life. Cells divide rapidly early in life so the argument is that animals who are born with longer telomeres have a greater chance of survival before the shorter telomeres limit their lives.”
This ‘easy-to-obtain biological marker’ can be used moving forward, for selection in animals, helping farmers to assess the lifespans of cattle and determine which cows would be better for breeding, dairy or fattening up for beef.
Professor Melissa Bateson, from Newcastle University’s Neuroscience Institute, outlined the importance of animal research as, unlike human research, it can include experiments into telomeres.
She added: “If you show that stress is causal in shortening telomeres in animals, it gives more credence to the idea that something similar may be going on in humans.
“If we think that telomeres are a measure of biological age and basically sum up all the bad things that you have been exposed to over your life then that is potentially quite useful [because] it can contribute to our understanding of what kind of lifestyle factors are going to make you live a long, healthy life and which ones might be going to make you die young.”
Multi-stage sequencing approach can pinpoint defective genes
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have developed a method of identifying genetic mutations that are linked to a rare form of muscular dystrophy. The study was published in the journal EBioMedicine, and was funded by a number of organisations, including Muscular Dystrophy UK and the medical research council.
This new approach could allow for cheaper and faster diagnosis of the condition called Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy (EDMD), which affects around one in 100,000 people worldwide, and can take many years to diagnose clearly. Researchers state that this method could also be modified to screen for gene mutations involved in other rare diseases.
According to previous research, mutations in six different genes cause EDMD, however, these mutations are found in less than half of people diagnosed with the disease. This implies that other genes could also trigger it.
Researchers say this new multi-stage sequencing approach has been designed to identify other genetic mutations that might cause EDMD.
The study initially revealed that more than 300 genes that could be involved in the disease, including ones that perform a similar function to the genes already known to cause EDMD. Some that were identified are also linked to other forms of muscular dystrophy.
When these genes were analysed alongside the genetic code of 56 people diagnosed with EDMD, more than 20 new mutations that appear to cause the condition were uncovered. Researchers say that these are likely most of the remaining genes linked to EDMD.
Director of research and innovation at Muscular Dystrophy UK Dr Kate Adcock said: “We know that many people with neuromuscular conditions are living without a genetic diagnosis. This research could pave the way to help people to get a diagnosis earlier. This will help people to manage their condition thereby helping to provide a better quality of life.”
One of the largest clinical trials conducted to date for canine cancer is currently underway in the United States.
Researchers from the University of California, Colorado State University and the University of Wisconsin are participating in the Vaccination Against Canine Cancer Study (VACCS trial) to assess a new vaccine strategy for the prevention, rather than the treatment, of cancer in dogs.
Scientists hope that, if the vaccine works, it could provide important justification for exploring a similar approach in humans.
David Vail, a professor and board-certified oncologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, said: “We’re testing a totally novel way of creating an anti-cancer immune response. The holy grail would be to prevent cancer as opposed to waiting for it to start and then treating it.”
The preventative cancer vaccine works similarly to how an influenza vaccine supports the body’s ability to fight flu. I.e., “to have the immune system primed such that if a cancer cell develops, it will attack,” said Vail.
With over 800 dogs participating in the trial, the study is the largest of its kind conducted to date, and in the history of veterinary medicine.
Professor Stephen Johnston from Arizona State University, who developed the vaccine, said: “The vaccine may not be effective, but this is probably the only approach to this type of vaccine, so we feel we have to try it. The implications of success would be quite large — for dogs and people.”
The vaccine is designed to target some 30 abnormal proteins found on the surface of cancer cells. These proteins, which are the result of incorrectly-coded RNA, are generally only found in patients with cancer.
Scientists hope that by vaccinating healthy patients with these proteins, together with a substance that stimulates an immune response, the vaccine could serve as a universal defender against cancer by “turning on” the immune system.
The vaccine will target several cancers common to dogs, including lymphoma, osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma and mastocytomas.
Participating dogs must be aged between six and 10 years, with no previous history of cancer. The dogs will receive either a series of inoculations or a placebo and will live at home while being checked two-to-three times a year, for five years after enrolment.
Researchers have agreed to cover the costs associated with diagnostics and treatment of any cancers that dogs develop, whether or not they are receiving a vaccine or placebo.
Findings could improve treatment of immune disorders
Teams from the Universities of Bristol and Reading have discovered that baby boy’s and girl’s immune systems respond differently to prebiotics and probiotics, contradicting previous evidence that the differences in immunity begin during puberty.
The research, which was conducted using 28-day-old piglets, revealed that, depending on their sex, they produced vastly varying levels of immune cells, antibodies and other immune-associated molecules.
It was also found that the prebiotic inulin significantly increases the number of regulatory T-cells – the cells responsible for controlling immune responses – in male guts, but this was not the case in female guts.
Principal investigator Dr Marie Lewis, lecturer in gut immunology and microbiology at the University of Reading said: “Currently, studies looking at the effectiveness of dietary supplements on the immune system assume that the same thing happens in boys and girls. But we show this is not the case and that sex may be influencing data on the effectiveness of probiotics and prebiotics in infanthood."
Dr Lewis also speculated that these findings may lead to differences in designing treatments for immune disorders for infant girls and boys.
“In the future, we could find that specific probiotics or prebiotics are more beneficial for girls, whilst others could generate better health outcomes for boys.
“Given the underlying differences in immune development we identified between boys and girls, taking sex into account could provide a simple means to improve the effectiveness of pharmaceutics and other therapies which act on the immune system."
New research suggests understanding could be enhanced by drawing on human research
Scientists at Oxford University are calling for a review of how behaviours spread through wild animal populations and how this could aid in the understanding of human social connections.
Their study, published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, suggests that understanding of animal behaviours could be improved by drawing on the latest discoveries in human social systems.
The human studies found that the most influential people are not necessarily the most social. Instead, the most influential people are often those found in close-knit social circles.
The human studies revealed that while people in close-knit groups had fewer social connections, they were very influential and promoted the spread of new behaviour.
In the new study, researchers show how these recent insights can be used to enrich our understanding of animal social networks.
Examples presented in the paper reveal how, even in the most basic social systems, small changes can have a major influence on which animals might adopt a behaviour and which might be key to its spread.
“Just like in humans, various animal species are known to be capable of social considerations, such as when to adopt a behaviour, or who to learn from,” explained lead author Dr Josh Firth. “These choices mean that behaviours don’t spread like diseases.”
The researchers also draw on recent studies of animals' social connections and how this could inform understanding of human social lives. For example, birds may ‘follow the majority’ when learning to find food and fish appear to make fine-scale judgements about when to copy their shoal-mates’ behaviour.
Scientists suggest that by considering how these choices affect the spread of behaviour, animal systems could reveal new insights into the spread of different behaviours (such as mating or foraging), and which factors govern which individuals have the most influence on their peers.
"Studying wild animal populations holds exceptional advantages, such as the ability to experimentally manipulate natural social networks, and to track individuals over long time periods and many generations,” Dr Firth added.
Scientists have discovered a new technique for understanding joint behaviour in conditions like osteoarthritis with more accuracy than ever before.
The groundbreaking technique, published in Nature Research, employs high-resolution imaging and specially-designed software code to gain a deeper understanding of how joints react as osteoarthritis progresses.
Joint strain is traditionally measured on the nanometer scale on tissue structures such as collagen fibres, chondrocyte cells and bones.
Until now, such strains have only been measured at the sub-millimetre scale in whole joints during loading. In this study, scientists measured these strains in mouse knee joints with an accuracy greater than 100 nanometers - 1,000 times more precise than before.
The study involved male ‘STR/Ort’ mice, which develop a natural form of osteoarthritis with age, similar to the human disease. The researchers then compared these mice with male age-matched control mice that did not display any signs of age-related osteoarthritis.
It used combination of x-ray tomography, a nano-precision loading frame and a software code designed to measure motion between subsequent 3D images with a resolution of 1/20th of a voxel (3D pixel).
Researchers found that in young, older and arthritic mice, changes in tissue structure and mechanical behaviour can be simultaneously visualised, and that tissue structure at the cellular level is comparative with the mechanical performance of the joint as a whole.
The collaborative study was conducted by researchers from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), Edinburgh Napier University, University College London, Oregon State University (US), 3Dmagination and the Diamond Light Source.
RVC skeletal dynamics professor Andrew A Pitsillides, explained: “Our technique for nanometre scale measurement of real deformation in whole joints under conditions closely mimicking their normal use will, I hope, bring new understanding of joint behaviour in health and in osteoarthritis that devastates the lives of so many.”
3Dmagination Ltd director Dr Kamel Madi, added: “Measuring precise and reliable nanoscale strains in this complex biomedical system requires a perfect blend of skills, from in situ imaging to reconstruction and quantification of several terabytes of dataset, which is the team’s expertise at 3Dmagination Ltd.
“I am also passionate about bringing the images to life and I hope our method will contribute to uncovering the secrets of osteoarthritis in the future.”
Tick may have been carried over from birds from Scandinavia
Scientists at the University of Glasgow have identified an exotic tick-borne parasite within Scottish sheep.
Writing in the journal Emerging Infectious Disease, researchers say this is the first time this organism - Babesia venatorum (B.venatorum) - has been detected in animals in the UK. It is also the first time the tick has been identified in sheep anywhere in the world.
Researchers collected blood samples from cattle, sheep and deer from northeast Scotland - an area where tick-borne diseases have previously been detected. They found DNA from the B. venatorum parasite in the blood of a large number of sheep that were not showing any sign of the disease.
The authors say the discovery raises concerns for public health and farming. But while the tick may be more virulent than species of Babesia usually found in the UK, it is thought to have a low risk to human health.
“The presence of B. venatorum in the UK represents a new risk to humans working, living, or hiking in areas with infected ticks and livestock, particularly sheep,” explained Dr Willie Weir, senior university clinician in veterinary pathology, public health and disease Investigation.
“Although we believe the threat to humans to be low, nevertheless local health and veterinary professionals will need to be aware of the disease if the health risk from the tick-borne disease in the UK is to be fully understood.”
B. venatorum causes babesiosis, a rare tick-borne disease that has been recognised as an emerging disease in humans. It has been extensively recorded in China and Europe in the last 20 years, with two confirmed human infections in Italy.
Scientists believe the B. venatorum tick may have been carried by migratory birds coming into the UK from Scandinavia.
“Our study reveals that sheep can be a natural host for B. venatorum in the UK, which is surprising since we believed roe deer to be the main mammalian host for this parasite in Europe,” said first author Dr Alex Gray.
“Given our findings, ongoing active surveillance of this parasite in UK livestock would be useful to fully understand the prevalence and transmission of the disease, as such information may be critical for controlling the spread of babesiosis.”
The discovery of B. venatorum follows the recent discovery of tick-borne encephalitis virus in the UK.
One Health in Action report marks One Health Day 2019
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has launched a ‘first of its kind’ report highlighting the crucial role of vets to the One Health agenda.
The One Health in Action report brings together experts from animal and human medicine, alongside environmental organisations, to tackle global issues as varied as mental health and antimicrobial resistance.
Launched to mark One Health Day on November 3, it has been broken down into six major themes:
- mental health and wellbeing
- antimicrobial resistance
- non-communicable diseases
- environmental and climate change
Each section includes three case studies provided by contributors from a variety of professional organisations, including The Wildlife Trust, Animal and Plant Health Agency, Veterinary Medicines Directorate, Royal College of Nursing, National Trust, PDSA and the British Dental Association.
The report also includes a forward by BVA senior vice president Doherty, who chairs the UK One Health Coordination Group.
“One Health is something that is close to my heart and an area that I have been involved in for a long time,” he said. “I am very proud to present the BVA’s One Health in action report which draws on the combined experience of members of the UKOHCG and several other key stakeholders to help showcase One Health to a wider audience.
“There are ongoing global concerns around the availability of food systems, environmental damage, rising rates of mental health issues, antimicrobial resistance, ecosystem health, transboundary diseases and climate change. In order to tackle these, the need for joint working and information sharing is greater than ever.”
The concept of One Health recognises that the health and wellbeing of people, animals and the environment are interconnected. In a recent Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey, however, results revealed just 11 per cent of vets understood the link.
Mr Doherty continued: “Unsurprisingly ‘health’ goes beyond the absence of disease in humans and can include animal health and welfare and a healthy, biodiverse environment. By working together with medics, environmental organisations and others, we can bring all of our areas of expertise into one arena to make a real difference to the world we live in.
“This report is just the beginning. We hope to see awareness to the One Health Agenda grow and for more organisations and individuals to get involved.”