Published: 12 June 2015

Tackling tuberculosis with a model cow lung

Surrey academics have been awarded £425,000 to develop a laboratory model of the cow lung that could replace the need to use live cattle to study early events in bovine tuberculosis.

Bovine tuberculosis (BTB) is a zoonosis which infects livestock and wildlife. While BTB has been largely eliminated from many countries, the control of Mycobacterium bovis (the bacteria that causes BTB) has proved problematic in large parts of Great Britain. If control doesn’t improve, the projected economic burden of the disease could reach £1 billion in the next decade.

Surrey researchers have won NC3Rs funding to produce an in vitro tissue culture model of the cow lung, with an air-liquid interface that recreates the fundamental elements of the bovine pulmonary alveolus (the small air spaces in the lungs where carbon dioxide leaves the blood and oxygen enters it).

The model will allow the team to study what happens when a bovine lung is infected with virulent mycobacteria. Through collaboration with the bovine TB research group at the Animal & Plant Health Agency, the model will be used to test whether successful vaccines exert their effect at the very earliest stages of infection, when infectious bacteria first reach the alveolus. If this is the case, then the model can be used to screen for better vaccines without having to infect cattle with M. bovis. It will also give valuable insights into the nature of protective immunity during the first stages of infection that are notoriously difficult to study in the whole animal.

The study is being led by Mark Chambers, Professor in Veterinary Bacteriology, and the research team includes Graham Stewart, Professor of Molecular Bacteriology, Javier Salguero, Reader in Comparative Pathology, and Rachel Butler, Research Fellow in Bioimaging and Flow Cytometry.

When developed, our model will reduce the need to infect cattle to answer fundamental questions about TB pathogenesis and provide a valid substitute for cattle that can be used by researchers without access to animal facilities.

Professor Mark Chambers

Work should begin in January 2016, following the move of the School of Veterinary Medicine to state-of-the-art new laboratories on the Manor Park campus. First results are anticipated towards the end of 2016.

Learn more about research within the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences our and programmes in the field of Veterinary Medicine and Science and Biosciences and Medicine.

Share what you've read?