- Foot and mouth disease (FMDV) is one of the world’s most economically devastating diseases.
- Thomas Connolley
But it’s not just human health that scientists are working on. In parts of the world, the loss of a cow or a sheep could spell financial ruin. Foot and mouth disease (FMDV) is one of the world’s most economically devastating diseases. The UK suffered outbreaks in 2002 and 2007, and the cost to the economy was an estimated £8 billion However, the disease remains endemic throughout much of the world, costing between $6-21 billion a year in lost livestock and vaccination efforts. In parts of Asia, Africa, and South America, FMDV is an everyday problem, but work at Diamond may help change that.
Dave Stuart is Director of Life Sciences at Diamond, and his vaccine research has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of viruses like FMDV. There is currently a vaccine for the disease, but it relies on an inactivated version of the virus itself; this is problematic, because in warmer climates and under certain conditions the vaccine has a very short shelf life.
However, Dave and his group from Oxford University and the Pirbright Institute have a new approach. They used Diamond to uncover the exact shape of FMDV, and then they created a lookalike: an identical copy, except there’s nothing inside. These vaccines are known as ‘empty shells’. When a live virus enters the body, the shell cracks open and releases RNA: the genetic code that causes the infected cell to produce millions of new virus particles, allowing the disease to multiply and spread. But Dave’s vaccine only looks like the virus, without actually containing any of the viral information. This means there’s no chance of the vaccine becoming infectious and, what’s more, because it doesn’t use any of the live virus, it’s quicker, easier and safer to produce.
This new vaccine methodology could be really significant for people living in parts of the world where FMDV is endemic. Use of an empty shell vaccine opens up the possibility of ultimately wiping FMDV out altogether, a considerable boost for agricultural economies.