Published: 03 Aug 2023 | Last Updated: 03 Aug 2023 11:39:28

Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) have been awarded funding by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to continue their studies into Enzootic pneumonia, the most common respiratory disease in pigs. The research will specifically focus on Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae (M.hyop), the causative agent of the disease, and aim to progress vaccine development.

M.hyop is present in 80% of UK pig herds, which can result in a 16% reduction of growth and a 14% reduction in feed conversion in pigs. This therefore, is not only a welfare issue for pigs but can significantly increase production costs for farmers. Additionally, piglets are considered free from M.hyop at birth and with close contact between infected and susceptible pigs the main route of transmission is often during lactation when piglets are first exposed. This places piglets under enormous risk of developing the respiratory disease as well as infection from secondary pathogens.

Unfortunately, there are currently no commercial vaccines available that would prevent initial infection, and while M.hyop is susceptible to a variety of antibiotics, their use needs to be reduced to avoid overuse and the occurrence of multi-drug resistant strains.

Therefore, a priority for the team of RVC researchers, including Professor Dirk Werling, Dr Rob Noad and Dr Sonja Jeckel, will be developing new vaccines that confer protective immunity and reduce transmission. The team will also research the optimisation of protocols to eliminate M.hyop from pig herds in an effort to further minimise potential transmission.

Building on previous BBSRC and Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board-funded work, which identified the genes that are essential for the survival of the pathogen in pigs and isolated strains of bacteria from UK pigs, this new research project will discover the bacterial genes that are necessary for disease as a basis for the development of better vaccines to prevent the circulation of Enzootic pneumonia.

Professor Dirk Werling, Professor of Molecular Immunology at the RVC, said:

Infection of Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae is a really debilitating disease in pigs that causes huge economic losses for farmers. I am very pleased that we will be able to continue working with a pharmaceutical partner to develop a new vaccine using state-of the-art technologies.”

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About the RVC

  • The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the UK's largest and longest established independent veterinary school and is a Member Institution of the University of London.
  • It is one of the few veterinary schools in the world that hold accreditations from the RCVS in the UK (with reciprocal recognition from the AVBC for Australasia, the VCI for Ireland and the SAVC for South Africa), the EAEVE in the EU, and the AVMA in the USA and Canada.
  • The RVC is ranked as the top veterinary school in the world in the QS World University Rankings by subject, 2023.
  • The RVC offers undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in veterinary medicine, veterinary nursing and biological sciences.  
  • The RVC is a research led institution with 88% of its research rated as internationally excellent or world class in the Research Excellence Framework 2021.
  • The RVC provides animal owners and the veterinary profession with access to expert veterinary care and advice through its teaching hospitals and first opinion practices in London and Hertfordshire.

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