New collaboration to develop rapid diagnostic test for livestock parasite

Cows in a field

Researchers at the University of Liverpool are working with industrial partner Mologic Ltd on a pen-side test to enable diagnosis of liver fluke exposure in livestock in 10 minutes to target treatment, prevent drug resistance and reduce costly production losses.

Prevalent in over 70 countries worldwide and a common parasite affecting cattle and sheep in the UK, Fasciola hepatica (the liver fluke) is estimated to cause over £2.4 billion in livestock production losses.

Current liver fluke diagnostic tests require laboratory analysis, with typical wait time of week or more for results. Together with the impracticalities of regathering livestock, many tend to treat without diagnosis, contributing to the development of resistance to flukicide drugs.

Developed in collaboration with Mologic, a leading developer of lateral flow and rapid diagnostic technologies, the Liverpool test detects antibodies circulating in the blood of fluke-infected animals through a blood droplet taken from the ear. Results are available within 10 minutes to allow farmers to make an informed diagnosis and treat at the point of need, providing an innovative solution in liver fluke disease management.

Early fluke detection will prevent acute disease in sheep and for beef farmers, the ability to monitor infection at housing. Most importantly, it will allow the implementation of targeted treatment programmes, all of which will aid in slowing the development of flukicide resistance.

Dr Tessa Walsh, from the University’s Institute of Infection, Veterinary and Ecological Sciences, explained: “We are delighted that what started as a research tool is now being developed as a practical diagnostic test for farmers and vets, to support strategic control for this common, devastating disease. The project has been supported by AHDB and BBSRC to bring it to a point where we can start to develop the test commercially.”

Dr Alison Wakeham, Project Leader, Mologic, commented: “In fluke endemic areas, industry practice is often to treat in the absence of any diagnosis. As seen with antibiotics, an overreliance on flukicides gives rise to anthelmintic resistance and poses a significant threat and constraint to livestock production. Farm testing offers the industry a cost-effective route to early diagnosis and an on-the-spot targeted treatment. A positive outcome for the animal, the producer, the processor and the consumer.”

Lesley Stubbings representing the Sustainable Control of Parasites (SCOPS) group added: fluk“Testing is a key element in Liver Fluke control and the SCOPS group are excited by the potential for a test that can be used ‘pen-side’ on farm. This would enable farmers to treat only when necessary, ensuring timely treatment while avoiding over-use of flukicides, which is critical if we are to preserve the efficacy of the medicines available to us.”

Rebecca Small on behalf of the Control of Worms Sustainably (COWS) group added: “It is great to see that research is being put into practice. This tool is an exciting development that will provide rapid results allowing farmers to make more informed decisions as to whether an animal needs treated for liver fluke or not.”

To gain further industry insight to how a pen-side diagnostic test for liver fluke should function, the University of Liverpool and Mologic have launched a short market research survey. They are looking for the views from all aspects of the farming industry and urge anyone to take part. The survey should take approximately 10-15 minutes to complete and is available from the 7th December 2020 to 10th January 2021. Industry feedback will drive the final test format. A link to the survey can be found here.