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Curtin vaccine research to benefit dairy industry

Media release

Curtin University of Technology is collaborating with key Indian institutions on a research initiative to develop a vaccine for the prevention of bovine mastitis (mammary gland infection) that could lead to significant savings for the dairy industry.

Lead Australian researcher, Associate Professor Trilochan Mukkur from Curtin’s School of Biomedical Sciences, said that mastitis is a major issue for the dairy industry.

“Mastitis costs the Australian dairy trade over $100 million dollars annually, and the infection is becoming a major problem for high producers, crossbreeding, and upgrading programs aiming to increase milk output,” he said.

“A number of factors contribute to mastitis, with inappropriate hygienic practices and infection with specific bacterial and environmental pathogens as the main causes.

“Staphylococcus aureus (commonly known as golden staph) is one of the pathogens that causes mastitis and is the most difficult one to treat because of constantly emerging antibiotic resistance, as is the case with community and hospital-acquired human staphylococcal infections.”

Associate Professor Mukkur said this research was very timely as previous attempts at developing a vaccine against staphylococcal mastitis were unsuccessful.

“A significant amount of funding was made available in the late 70s to early 80s to develop a vaccine against staphylococcal mastitis at CSIRO’s Division of Animal Health but the technologies required to achieve this goal were limited at the time,” he said.

“Our aim now is to create an effective molecular vaccine that will be affordable and available globally, and we expect to have a vaccine ready for field trials in cattle in about three years.”

Associate Professor Mukkur said the knowledge gained from this project would have direct implications for the development of a human vaccine against community and hospital-acquired golden staph infections.

“Golden staph infection is a very common infection estimated to claim as many as 6,000-7,000 lives in Australia annually particularly because of its antibiotic resistance,” he said.

“A human vaccine against golden staph would be very beneficial in helping to manage this infection, especially in Australia’s hospitals.”

This joint three-year research project was recently funded under the Federal Government’s Indo-Australian Biotechnology Fund where only 17 per cent of Australian applicants were successful in winning research grants in frontier biotechnologies.

A total of $300,000 has been granted for this project by the Australian Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research to Curtin, with the Federal Indian Department of Biotechnology granting a similar amount to the Indian partners.

The Indo-Australian Biotechnology Fund is part of the Federal Government’s $65 million Australia-India Strategic Research Fund.

Associate Professor Mukkur said a staphylococcal mastitis vaccine would also be very beneficial for the Indian dairy industry.

“In India, consequences of mastitis infection are even more serious because of extensive backyard farming and the heavy dependence of farmers, and landless labourers, on livestock compounds for their livelihoods,” he said.

“The annual economic cost of mastitis for the Indian dairy industry is a staggering $400 million (16,000 million rupees) of which 60 per cent is a result of golden staph infections.

“An affordable vaccine would be an advantage to livestock owners with one or two milkers, as well as the Indian dairy industry in general.”

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