UT researchers create kit to detect disease in dairy cows

UT researchers create kit to detect disease in dairy cows

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By LORI TUCKER
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - University of Tennessee researchers have come up with a rapid disease detection kit that can make a diagnosis in minutes, rather than days, or even weeks.

The focus right now is on Johnes Disease, which can be devastating to a dairy farmer's bottom line.

The disease has not affected cattle belong to dairy farmer Mac Pate of Maryville. He has 200 head of dairy cattle and he's among those farmers who says Johnes Disease is one of their biggest fears.

Pate is grateful his herd has steered clear of the disease, caused by a bacterium that makes affected cattle ill with dysentery, reducing their milk production, and putting surrounding cows at risk.

Pate said, "It's very contagious so dairymen don't want to get it in their herds."

Johnes Disease isn't a big problem in the East Tennessee region, but it has devastated dairy farms primarily in the midwest, causing an estimated 200 million dollars in economic loss in this country alone.

When a cow is diagnosed, Pate said, it has to be removed from the herd immediately and put down.

"The animal's a loss. Once they get it, it's just a loss."

That's just one of the reasons University of Tennessee researchers are hard at work on a prototype disease detection kit, hoping one day to get it on the market for use in the United States and beyond, not only for cattle, but for people, too.

Associate Professor for Electrical Engineering Jie Wu explained, "there will be children in developing countries that can be saved because (they) got diagnosed in time. Farmer(s) know that dairy cows have disease so can isolate that and save them financial losses and people will have better quality food."

Dr. Wu and her research team including Associate Professor for Wildlife Health, Shigetoshi Eda, have been working on the disease detector for eight years, finally coming up with a simple test using just a drop of blood on a computer chip.

"You extract the serum, and you put it on a chip, and you push a button on our device and boom, in a few minutes you got results," said Wu.

The test kit isn't ready to go from the lab into the field, but when it is, Mac Pate is one farmer who will be glad to have it on hand.

"The early detection would be a great benefit," he said.

Researchers said in the future, the disease detector will be able to quickly diagnose diseases in humans such as cancer and Alzheimer's.

 

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