School of Biosciences
Blood test

Accurate and rapid detection of mycobacteria

Microbiologists have developed a rapid method of detecting pathogenic mycobacteria that cause bovine TB

The issue

Mycobacterial disease is a significant issue in the agricultural industry. For instance Mycobacterium bovis causes bovine tuberculosis (bTB) infections in cattle. The current tests have failed to check the spread of this disease in the UK. Over the next decade it has been estimated that the national control program will cost the UK government over £1 billion.

The research

Dr Cath Rees and her research team have developed a rapid method to identify infections caused by mycobacteria using bacteriophage (viruses that only infect bacteria). The technology, known as Actiphage®, is low cost, simple, sensitive and rapid, and can be adapted to detect different types of mycobacteria. The test can be applied to a range of different samples such as blood and milk. The test can also be applied to any species of animal. The innovative technology can be used across many applications including food safety checks and animal health. 

The impact

The technology was licensed to PBD Biotech Ltd and commercialised for a range of markets, from research to diagnostics, with a primary focus on the detection of bTB and Johne’s disease. Actiphage® has since been used, as part of a novel disease management programme, to eradicate bTB from a chronically infected dairy herd in Devon. The successful project allowed the farmer to trade for the first time in seven years. Following this phenomenal outcome, in 2018 Defra’s Animal and Plant Health Agency allowed wider use of Actiphage® for the control of chronic bTB in cattle in England under its exceptional private test provisions. Actiphage® has also been utilised to detect bTB infections in lions within zoos and to screen for M. bovis in raw milk used for cheese making. The possibilities for application are endless.



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