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Royal Veterinary College research to tackle Post-weaning multi-systemic wasting syndrome

The Royal Veterinary College is contributing to a £11.5m programme to tackle some of the most harmful and widespread diseases that commonly affect farmed animals in the UK.

Professor Dirk Werling from the Royal Veterinary College is heading a £2.4m project, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the British Pig Executive (BPEX), and two industrial partners, Pfizer Ltd (UK) and BioBest, to identify why Post-weaning multi-systemic wasting syndrome (PMWS) occurs and to potentially develop new methods of controlling the disease.

‘This project presents a combined effort of three internationally recognized teams at the Royal Veterinary College to tackle one of the most important endemic pig diseases,’ said Professor Werling. ‘By combining our knowledge in the areas of epidemiology, immunology and animal husbandry and welfare, we will gain new insight into how this virus causes this crippling disease.’

PMWS is a common disease of young pigs in the U.K. It is extremely debilitating, causes considerable suffering and poor welfare, and has a high mortality of up to 30%. It is estimated that the disease costs the UK farming industry £30m per year.

Since entering England in 1999, PMWS has spread throughout the UK, reaching Scotland in 2002. Currently BPEX estimates that approx 6000 units in the UK were affected with PMWS in 2006, and an estimated 83% of British pig units were affected in March 2007. There is growing concern internationally about the spread of PMWS, especially in North America and Asia,

This project comprises a unique interdisciplinary approach to investigate this endemic disease and will integrate modern scientific techniques from epidemiology, genetics, microbiology, pathology, molecular immunology and environmental science to identify why PMWS occurs, leading to new control methods.

British pig farmers will be involved in the project from the start, thereby guaranteeing that pigs in Britain will be the first to benefit from this research, while collaboration with a major international pharmaceutical company will ensure that new veterinary products will be made available to pig farmers worldwide.

BPEX Director of Pig Industry Development Mark Wilson said: “Tackling PMWS is of vital importance for the British pig industry because of its devastating effects. This is an exciting project which could bring valuable results for improving the health of the national herd.”

The project is one of only 10 BBSRC-funded projects in the UK that will employ cutting-edge bioscience to study endemic diseases. Together, they will contribute to improved animal health and welfare, as well as reduced economic losses. The research will generate better scientific understanding of the behavior and spread of the diseases which can then be used to improve their management and control.

Becci Cussens | alfa
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