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The East African : February 10th 2014
30 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK FEBRUARY 8-14,2014 S CI E N C E Global team works on deadly livestock disease vaccine East Coast Feve≥ killed mo≥e than a million cows last yea≥ in East and Cent≥al Af≥ica By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI Special Correspondent A group of researchers have partnered to develop a vaccine for East Coast Fever — a devastating livestock disease. East Coast Fever, a disease caused by a tick-borne parasite, kills one cow every 30 seconds, mostly in East and Central Africa. Last year, the disease killed more than a million cows in 11 countries — Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi, DR Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, South Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe — resulting in $300 million in losses. The new approaches the research- ers will use to develop the new vaccine could also help advance efforts to develop malaria vaccines and new ways to treat cancer. Led by the Nairobi based Interna- tional Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the study is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for $15 million for four years and aims to develop a better, affordable vaccine for East Coast Fever than the current one. Phase one Phase one of the vaccine develop- ment will be carried out in Kenya, Malawi, Belgium, UK and USA. “For the new vaccine, the ILRI re- searchers hope to develop a jab that does two things — stimulate the production of antibodies to protect against an infection and also stimulate the cow’s immune system to use its own “natural killer T-cells” to attack white blood cells infected by the parasite,” said Vish Nene, the lead researcher for the Improved Vaccines For The Control Of East SIMILARITIES Experts in cattle immunology said that understanding how cells infected with the East Coast fever parasite proliferate in cattle could provide a model for work on interventions in human cancers. This is because East Coast Fever invades the cow’s white blood cells, causing the cells to proliferate rapidly, which closely resembles the mechanisms of lymphoma, a blood cancer. Malaria researchers are also interested in the East Coast Fever vaccine as both are caused by single-celled parasites, which have proven extremely tough to control. Coast Fever initiative and director of ILRI’s Vaccine Biosciences Programme. To develop a new vaccine, re- searchers will focus on recent breakthroughs that have isolated proteins in the parasite, called antigens, likely to be crucial in protecting cattle from East Coast Fever. Some of the antigens appear capable of stimulating production of protective antibodies. Other parasite antigens could help endow the vaccine with the capacity to stimulate the cow’s production of a type of lymphocyte known as cytotoxic or “killer” T-cells that are able to target and destroy those white blood cells of a cow that are infected with the parasite. “While there is currently a vaccine, it’s expensive and needs refrig- BRIEFS Rwanda awarded for efforts to fight malaria Rwanda was among seven African countries recognised for their fight against malaria at the opening ceremony of the African Union Summit of Heads of States at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia. The African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) Awards for Excellence in Vector Control are given out every year to countries that have made significant strides in preventing the spread of malaria. Other countries recognised are Cape Verde, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Swaziland. HIV-positive Ugandans to get free ARVs Researchers want to develop a vaccine that stimulates production of antibodies in livestock and stimulate their immune system. Picture: File eration, making it unattainable for the African farmers who need it the most,” said Dr Nene. The current vaccine, developed by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) with several decades of support from ILRI and many of its partners in the current project, is made by grinding ticks infected with the parasite that causes East Coast Fever. This “first-generation” vaccine is credited with saving 620,000 cows and a formulation released in 2012 has been in high demand. However, the vaccine costs $8 to $12 per animal, which is too high for many pastoralists and smallholder farmers. Also limiting its wider adoption are its strict refrigeration requirements and its production difficulties, as it takes 18 months to make a single batch of the vaccine. Meanwhile, the research team will devote part of its work to improving the existing vaccine so that it can serve as a more effective interim solution while the new vaccine is in development — a process that could take about 10 years. Dr Nene said that most of the animals that are threatened by the disease belong to poor pastoralist herders and smallholder farmers, for whom the loss of even one cow can be disastrous. “It is exciting to work on a project that offers enormous benefits for poor livestock-keepers while also providing insights into burdensome human diseases,” said Jimmy Smith, director general of ILRI. Nut≥ition of o≥phan c≥ops to be imp≥oved via ≥esea≥ch By ISAAC KHISA The EastAfrican THE AFRICAN Orphan Crops Consortium has released a list of a hundred crop species whose genomes it plans to sequence, assemble and annotate to improve nutrition on the continent. Orphan crops are food crops and tree species that have been neglected because they are not economically important in the global market. The list, which includes the African eggplant, amaranth, guava and cassava, is being disseminated so that researchers around the world can contact the consortium with suggestions for research needs regarding the selected species. The research will be conducted at the Nairobibased African Plant Breeding Academy hosted at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), with improved planting materials offered to smallholder farmers throughout Africa. Allen Van Deynze, the director for Research at the University of California Davis’s Seed Biotechnology Centre and one of the scientists on the project, said the consortium plans to sequence a reference genome and produce 100 lines for each of the crops listed. Dr Deynze said baobab, which can be used as a dried fruit powder for consumer products, will be the first orphan crop to be studied. Baobab, called “the wonder tree” in Africa, is said to have antiviral properties; to have 10 times the antioxidant level of oranges; twice the amount of calcium as spinach; three times the vitamin C of oranges and four times more potassium than bananas. “The consorti- More than 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa eat orphan crops um’s goal is to use the latest scientific equipment and techniques to guide the development of more robust produce with higher nutritional content,” said Dr Deynze. Formed in 2010, the African Orphan Crops Consortium is made up of: the African Union-New Partnership for Africa’s Development; Mars Incorporated; World Agroforestry Centre; Beijing Genomics Institute; Life Technologies Corporation; World Wildlife Fund; University of California, Davis; iPlant Collaborative and Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute. According to the consortium, more than 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa consume orphan crops, thus boosting their main crop production and nutrition will help reduce hunger and malnutrition. They will also train 250 plant breeders and technicians in genomics and marker-assisted selection for crop improvement over a five-year period. The equipment will boost ongoing polio eradication initiatives. Pic: File Uganda halves TB deaths, meeting its 2015 MDG Uganda has been recognised by WHO for halving tuberculosis- related deaths from 9,900 in 1990 to 4,700 in 2012. This achievement won Uganda the Supra National Reference Laboratory (SRL) certification, a distinction it apparently shares only with South Africa among African countries. What makes the achievement even more important is that it means Uganda has attained the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people who die from TB ahead of the 2015 deadline. People living with HIV/Aids in Uganda will benefit from free antiretroviral treatment following the latest government policy shift on treatment. The new policy means that the 1.4 million people living with the virus become the responsibility of the government. The policy was adopted by the Ministry of Health following recommendations by the WHO and will be effected this year. The strategy also calls for mandatory treatment of all HIV-positive adults in discordant relationships, patients diagnosed with active tuberculosis and pregnant women. Kemri receives equipment from WHO to detect polio The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) polio reference laboratory has received a major boost after WHO donated specialised ultra-modern equipment to bolster polio detection and management activities under the Global Polio Eradication programme. The equipment, consisting of two incubators, a real time Polymerase Chain Reaction machine, a portable Tommy autoclave and a large capacity centrifuge, will strengthen efforts to fight polio in the country.
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