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22.01.2021

Using mini-stomachs to help understanding of how parasites survive in cattle stomachs

worm parasites (red) within a sheep mini stomach (green)

Scientists at Moredun Research Institute and the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, have joined forces to develop three-dimensional cell cultures which mimic the stomach of cattle. These ‘mini-stomachs’ will allow a detailed analysis of how the worms interact with the cells lining the stomach, and to test the effects of anthelmintic drugs on worms when they are within the stomach environment. Through this work, it is hoped that novel methods can be developed to control this important parasite.

Ostertagia ostertagi is gastrointestinal worm parasite which affects millions of cattle globally and is highly prevalent in the UK. In a recent UK abattoir survey, 89% of cattle had evidence of infection by the parasite. The parasite lives in the abomasum (or true stomach) of cattle where it causes losses in calf growth-rates, carcass quality and milk production. A major issue is that immunity to the parasite takes months to develop, which is thought to be due to the parasite suppressing immune responses within the stomach lining. This has the knock-on effect that infections impact production for long periods of time. Control of this parasite relies heavily on anthelmintic drug treatments. Worryingly, there is now good evidence that the parasite is becoming resistant to many of these drugs, meaning existing treatments are becoming less effective. Therefore, the industry will need new methods of parasite control in the future. This could involve interfering with the parasites ability to suppress immune responses to allow cattle to control the parasite more quickly, or developing new types of anti-parasite drugs.

This project is an Easter Bush Research Consortium project funded by Zoetis.

For further information, please contact Tom McNeilly Tom.McNeilly@moredun.ac.uk