Saving livestock, saving livelihoods
Researchers receive $5M federal grant to test new vaccine that can protect livestock in Africa from five viral diseases in a single dose.
By MICHAEL BROWN
(Edmonton) A vaccination research team at the University of Alberta has been named as part of a $5-million federal grant to test a heat-stable combination vaccine created to protect livestock against up to five deadly diseases that cause losses of up to 25 per cent in Africa’s livestock sector.
Led by Lorne Babiuk, virologist and U of A vice-president (research), the project was one of three Canadian research projects to be supported under the federal government’s Canadian International Food Security Research Fund.
Previous CIFSRF funding allowed Babiuk and his team to develop a vaccine to protect sheep, goats and cattle against lumpy-skin disease, Rift Valley fever, sheep pox, goat pox and, where necessary, peste des petits ruminants. The heat-stable, single-dose vaccine protects several animals against up to five viral diseases, so suppliers can streamline production, marketing and distribution to reach farmers in rural areas.
With this new grant, of which the U of A will receive $2.8 million, Babiuk and his research team will carry out field trials, testing one vaccine to protect livestock against four of the diseases prevalent in South Africa and another vaccine for all five diseases in Kenya. Researchers will also explore vaccine development to protect pigs against African swine fever. To prepare for the vaccines’ rollout in sub-Saharan Africa, the team will collaborate with regulatory bodies, agricultural ministries, professional associations and vaccine producers.
Babiuk says the vaccine is designed for small-scale livestock holders who would be devastated economically were they to lose up to one-third of their animals.
“It’s cheap, and more importantly it’s very stable, so there is no need for refrigeration,” said Babiuk.
A world leader in Canadian vaccine research, Babiuk is a global authority in infectious disease research—particularly virology, immunology and vaccine delivery—and has devoted his career to Canadian-based research to advance the health of humans and animals in Canada and internationally.
One of the many vaccines he developed laid the foundation for a rotavirus vaccine for children. Before vaccination, over 500,000 children died each year from rotavirus; now it is almost a thing of the past. His vaccine also saves the North American cattle industry $300 million a year.
Babiuk says that, while helping the developing world is at the forefront of his work, this research is of the highest priority for Canadians, adding that an ailment such as Rift Valley fever would be more harmful than the West Nile virus were it to gain a foothold in North America.
“One of the strategies behind developing these vaccines is to control these outbreaks at the source before they come here,” said Babiuk.
CIFSRF is a $124-million fund that works to increase food security in developing countries by funding research in agricultural innovation and nutrition, and fostering collaboration between developing-country researchers and Canadian experts. The fund is a joint initiative of IDRC and Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada.