Scientists at The Pirbright Institute have identified ASF proteins that can trigger an immune response in pigs, which they hope will help to develop a vaccine against the disease.
In a study published in Frontiers in Immunology, it was revealed that when some pigs were challenged with a virulent strain of ASF, after receiving a vaccine that included the identified proteins, the level of virus in the blood was reduced.
“ASFV has more than 150 proteins; understanding which of these triggers an immune response is difficult, but crucial for creating this kind of vaccine,” explained Dr Chris Netherton, head of the ASF vaccinology group at Pirbright. “Now we have identified proteins that activate pig immune cells, we can work on optimising the vaccine components to ensure pigs are protected against virulent ASF strains.
“This [research] demonstrates that this method of vaccination could provide effective protection to pigs, though further work is needed,” added Netherton.
UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss praised the progress made. “I welcome this research by The Pirbright Institute, which demonstrates the UK’s world-leading role in developing the science and tools needed to tackle devastating animal diseases such as African swine fever,” she said. “While this is encouraging progress, we continue to work closely with the UK pig sector to raise awareness of the risks and advise on maintaining high biosecurity standards, including minimising the risk of the virus infecting commercial pigs.”
Although the virus does not cause disease in humans, it poses a significant threat to food security and has a substantial impact on the economy, especially on trade and farming. ASF has already resulted in the culling of over 1.1m pigs in China and nearly 2.5m pigs in Vietnam alone. Culling, quarantine and strict biosecurity measures are currently the only defences farmers can use to prevent ASF from spreading.