Scientists have claimed they have developed a faster method of producing an effective vaccine for the disease caused by bluetongue virus (BTV).

BTV – a virus that has infected and killed thousands of livestock throughout the world – is spread to cattle, sheep and some other wild ruminants by a type of midge, a biting insect. Infected animals experience a range of symptoms that can be fatal in some cases and there are also indirect impacts such as weight loss and reduced milk production.

Previous prevention measures have included the culling of animals along with the use of inactivated vaccines. The vaccines, said scientists, have been a “major tool” in the strategy to control BTV outbreaks across Europe during the past 10 years, helping to limit and eventually stop the BTV epidemics.

However, despite being effective, scientists claim the vaccines only offer protection against a specific strain of the virus and there are at least 26 distinct different strains of BTV. Therefore, when a new strain of BTV emerges, a new vaccine is required – a lengthy process where some past outbreaks were able to spread for as much as two years before a new vaccine was available.

In a study published in the Journal of Virology, scientists from the University of Glasgow – in collaboration with Merial Animal Health – describe a new and cost-effective method that allows the production of a reliable type of inactivated vaccine using a synthetic biology approach. This method doesn’t rely on the use of live, infectious virus, meaning it is safer than other types of vaccines, they said.

According to the paper, synthetic vaccines offer many benefits compared to the vaccines traditionally used to control BTV, but perhaps the most important is the speed with which they can be designed and produced – around six months faster.

This breakthrough means a reliable product could become available more quickly following the detection of an outbreak caused by a newly emerging BTV strain, they said.

Director of the University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research and lead researcher on this study Massimo Palmarini said: “Our findings demonstrate a clear advantage for the use of synthetic vaccine technology when compared with more traditional options.

“Overall, this vaccine platform can significantly reduce the time taken from the identification of newly emerging BTV strains to the development and production of new effective vaccines.

“They can be brought to the market more quickly, but with the same level of quality and reliability as traditional vaccines. This is a big step towards a more sustainable, effective and rapid method of disease prevention.”

For more information, visit the Journal of Virology‘s website.

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