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Moredun's Disease Surveillance experts, in partnership with the Scottish Agricultural College's Veterinary Services, provide a specialist service to diagnose, monitor and horizon scan for livestock diseases in Scotland. Activity is focused within the Virus Surveillance Unit and in the Pathology laboratory which undertakes specialist histopathological surveillance of neuropathological and reproductive conditions of farm animals (and sea mammals such as whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals) for the whole of Scotland.

The diagnosis of disease can be a complex and arduous job, requiring highly trained and experienced individuals. It is mystery solving at its most extreme and the staff within the Surveillance Unit frequently encounter many unusual cases including new and emerging diseases.

Virus Surveillance Unit: protecting livestock and wildlife

The Virus Surveillance Unit (VSU) at Moredun contributes to two important aspects of the Scottish rural economy. The first of these is the control of endemic disease in domestic livestock and the second is through the effect of viruses on the biodiversity of wildlife.

In addition, the resources at Moredun and the experience of the staff are invaluable for advising on the diagnosis of any new animal disease that may emerge. By building up banks of virus isolates it is possible to monitor changes occurring in viruses under field conditions especially after the introduction of new vaccines.  Using these, newly introduced variants can often be quickly and reliably identified.  Real time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has been used to develop a new generation of highly sensitive, quantitative tests to detect and identify ruminant pestiviruses, louping-ill virus, bovine respiratory viruses, ruminant herpesviruses and marine mammal viruses such as phocine herpesvirus 1 and dolphin/seal morbillivirus.

The VSU provides specialist virological support to the disease control centres of the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) and to other veterinary laboratories. Some diagnostic testing for other clients can also be performed by individual arrangement.

For further information please contact Dr Mara Rocchi.

Pathology Unit

Pathology is the study of changes in animal tissues that occur due to disease. Some of these changes are visible directly with your own eyes (gross pathology). However, others require a light microscope (histopathology) and special staining or labelling techniques to see them.

Pathology helps scientists to identify which different types of cells are being affected and in which tissues, as well as identifying the different types of inflammation produced by an animal’s own white blood cells, in an effort to defend against and hopefully resolve a particular infection.

As Moredun’s research focuses on infectious diseases of livestock, information provided by the pathologists is crucial to almost all of its studies. Moredun’s own specialist Pathology Unit employs two full time veterinary pathologists and three scientific support staff who apply their specialist skills to many of the research projects. Cutting edge techniques being developed by Moredun not only allow the accurate identification of the different causes of infectious diseases but also the different inflammatory cells involved and the potent chemicals (cytokines) that they release. These methods have already been used to analyse the diseased placenta from sheep with enzootic abortion (infection with Chlamydia abortus) and are helping to explain how pregnancy is disrupted, killing the developing foetus.

In addition, the Pathology Unit provides general support for all of Moredun’s research by supplying digital image capture and analysis of cell preparations and tissues.