Roslin Technologies invests in cutting-edge stem cells project to thwart deadly pig diseases
Roslin Technologies, the UK’s specialist Ag-Tech venture builder, is delighted to announce that it has invested in a multi-body team to research how pig stem cells can be used as a model system to develop vaccines against some of the most deadly illnesses that threaten these animals.
The scientific group is made up of experts from the Roslin Institute, who will work on cell lines and gene editing, and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), which is working on infection models related to the viruses being targeted. Liaising on behalf of Roslin Technologies will be Dr Joe Mee, our head of laboratory sciences and an expert himself on stem cell research in pigs.
The Roslin Institute team aims to establish a reliable, large-scale system to develop and test vaccines for viral infections such as African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV), a highly contagious, potentially fatal disease, and Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS), which is widespread in commercial herds around the world. The researchers plan to use stem cell technology to develop a source of white blood cells, identical to those affected by disease in pigs, which can be used to develop vaccines containing live virus.
While our company’s aim is always to develop commercially successful ventures, Roslin Technologies is also committed to sustainable solutions that aid farm and companion animal welfare, reduce the burden on farmers, and limit veterinary interventions and the ongoing use of medications. ASFV, which is widespread in parts of Russia and China, is highly virulent and has high mortality rates. We are excited that this project may eventually aid farmers struggling with these diseases around the world.
Results from the study are expected to shed light on how diseases such as ASFV target white blood cells, and how the cells respond to infection. The approach seeks to improve on current vaccine testing methods, which include using blood cells derived from other animal species, or from other types of cells that resemble blood cells.
Stem cells – those in early stage development, which can change into different types of cell – hold promise as a source of blood cells as they are likely to be free of contamination with disease, leading to accurate, reliable results. Genetic modification techniques may also enable researchers to develop more efficient production of blood cells. This approach may also enable scientists to explore whether lab-produced blood cells are able to contain high levels of virus, making them effective for vaccine development. In addition, the application of genome editing technology to blood and virus cells could aid understanding of the role of genes in infectivity, immune response, and resistance to disease.
The study is funded by a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s Impact Acceleration Account and commercial partner Roslin Technologies Ltd. It was supported by Edinburgh Innovations, the University of Edinburgh’s commercialisation service.
Professor Jacqui Matthews, Chief Technology Officer, Roslin Technologies Ltd: “We are delighted to support this innovative project to generate tools to investigate key production diseases of pigs. These have major health and welfare implications for the industry. This project aligns well with Roslin Technologies’ mission to improve biological efficiency in the livestock sector, as well as with the company’s Animal Cells platform to develop multiple species cell lines to support screening of vaccines and therapeutics, and cell therapies.”
Dr Tom Burdon, Research Group Leader, Roslin Institute: “Stem cell technology applied to vaccine development can not only speed the delivery of results but limit the need for research involving animals. We hope that our efforts will aid the search for effective vaccines against serious diseases, which affect millions of animals and incur great cost to farmers.”
Sian Ringrose, Edinburgh Innovations: “This exciting project, in which University of Edinburgh technology is translated into industrial applications, holds promise in tackling a significant challenge for pig producers, ultimately improving animal welfare and food security.”