Collaborative research breeds E. coli vaccine


E-coli bacteria. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Andrea Findley

Among countless research endeavors Dr. Guy Loneragan, associate professor of animal science, has hit a milestone for the beef industry through a collaborative research project with Kansas State University.

Loneragan, along with Dr. Dan Thomson of KSU, recently received approval from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a conditional license for the first E. coli vaccine for cattle.

The vaccine, E. coli O157 Bacterial Extract, not only changes the beef industry, but also benefits the everyday beef consumer.

E. coli O157 does not make cattle sick, but each year the bacteria effects 70,000 people in the U.S. , according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most people recover, but serious complications can result such as kidney failure. Usually contaminated beef is the culprit for E. coli related illnesses.

“Consumers in the U.S. are very lucky because they have the safest food supply anywhere,” Loneragan said. “But as we have seen with salmonella in peanut butter, it’s certainly not perfect. To maintain the consumer’s confidence in products we need to help improve these instances that are not perfect. This is another step to ensure consumers can be confident that we are expending all efforts to develop the best interventions to maintain and enhance the safety of beef.”

As for the beef industry—this development has been a long-awaited goal.

“The beef industry have been investing millions of dollars in the last two decades or more into interventions to improve and enhance the safety of beef,” Loneragan said. “Most of the interventions have been impacting plants. The goal has recently been to develop interventions that we can use in live animals so we can improve the efficiency of the interventions in the plant.”

Sample collecting was conducted in a real-world setting in a commercial feedlot in southwest Kansas over a 98-day period.

Thomson and KSU students randomized cattle to either receive the vaccine or to receive a placebo.

Ten pens of 60 to 70 cattle received the vaccine and 10 pens did not. (Each animal was vaccinated or received the placebo 3 times).

The results show cattle with the vaccine are 85 percent more likely to shed E. coli O157 than cattle that received the placebo. Not only that, but if the cattle still shed bacteria they shed 98 percent less concentration of bacteria.

“During the years leading up the actual sample collecting, we worked on optimizing the protocol,” Loneragan said. “After the samples were collected they were analyzed for E. coli and the data was sent to me for analysis and for me to write the report.”

Funding totaled $150,000, which was co-founded by the manufacturer, Epitopix, as well as the beef industry.

Combined efforts of the beef industry have totaled $20 million, while private entities have spent more than 10 times that amount.

The vaccine will enter commercial use this month, but it will take several months before it’s readily available.

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