In about six months time, the University of Botswana could make a breakthrough by coming up with a more efficient and cheap drug to deal with Lumpy Skin disease, common among cattle and other livestock.
The University’s biology department, under the coordination of Molecular Biologist, Dr Wata Mpoloka, has commenced a vaccine development project to assist in the fight against viral infections and diseases.
The project is part of collaboration between UB, the Botswana Vaccine Institute (BVI) Pfitzer College, and an American-based institution.
According to Dr Mpoloka, their vision is to develop vaccine products tailored to applications in Southern Africa and beyond.
He says that for now, their trials and capacity building will be on diseases that are deadly but appear to be ignored. One such disease that the team, composed of Mpoloka, Aku Ntumy and Melitah Motlhale, have identified is the Lumpy skin disease.
“We are trying to target diseases that are neglected,” Dr Mpoloka told the Sunday Standard in an interview.
Although the results are not conclusive, indications are that there is a significant rise in deaths due to Lumpy skin disease.
Cattle with Lumpy skin disease exhibit an enlargement of lymph nodes, fever and generally have lumps on the skin which lead to death.
The disease is unpopular for hampering milk production because it affects the cows’ teats. It has also been known for affecting the reproduction system in cows. Studies have recorded increased abortions. In a number of instances sterility has also been recorded in bulls.
Mpoloka reveals that the initiative is part of an advance to device cheaper methods of developing vaccines using plants.
“We have identified a virus, its DNA sequence and characteristics,” said Mpoloka
“The challenge is that the virus keeps on changing,” he added.
He said, so far, they have developed 13 candidate vaccines that are due for their first clinical test to assess whether they are ready to cure Lumpy skin disease. He pointed out that once the vaccine’s clinical trials report a positive result, the team will advance to tackle disease affecting humans.
“We are looking forward to move on animal models in about six months’ time once the clinical trials at the lab have been concluded,” he stated. “The reason we are not doing trials with humans is because it often takes lengthy clinical trials.”
He also said that the approval process to do tests on humans has a lot of bureaucratic hitches.
At present vaccines are expensive and mostly require refrigeration for storage and distribution. However, with their new technology, Mpoloka says that the vaccine they hope to develop will deal with infections in a short time.
He said one of the problems currently facing farmers is that their vaccines normally require cold storage facilities, which are not readily available for the ordinary cattle or livestock owner.
He said with their technology they hope to invent effective vaccines that do not require cold storage.
“Once we have tested and satisfied ourselves that it works, we will hand it over to BVA for up-scaling,” he said.
Also under study is the Rota virus, which is common for causing diarrhea in children.