The Alberta Lamb Producers has recently supported a successful project application titled “Identification of predictive blood biomarkers related to sheep parasitic infections via metabolomics” by Dr. Seyed Ali Goldansaz. This research will investigate blood components that could be used for detecting subclinical parasitic infection in sheep. The project is managed by Olds College, and is a collaboration between University of Alberta, University of Calgary, Dalhousie University, Ontario Sheep Farmers and ALP.
Parasitic infections are production-limiting diseases that adversely affect sheep through reduced weight gain, lower immunity and increased susceptibility to miscarriage at pre-clinical stages. Parasitic infection in its clinical stages is also very detrimental to the animal. Conventional management practices are predominantly passive and involve blind treatment of animals with anthelmintic drugs, not considering the type of parasite or the infection load. Aggressive use of drugs has created resistant parasites and decreased the efficacy of anthelmintics. Current diagnosis methods are based on direct measurement of the infection after clinical symptoms. This is not ideal as most animals maintain the infection at the subclinical level, typically associated with significant reduction in animal performance. The production losses at the subclinical stage and the expense of diagnosis and treatment at the clinical stage both contribute to increased cost of production. An alternative method to detect parasitic infection in individual animals prior to manifestation of clinical signs can provide faster and less expensive outcomes. The current project is measuring parasite-induced changes at pre-clinical stages of the infection in sheep blood to identify components (biomarkers) that are representative of the infection as a novel screening method. These blood biomarkers can be translated into a handheld device for real-time, pen-side prediction of parasitic infection using a few drops of blood.
This project has already started and is expected to run till 2023, with a possibility of extension depending on the initial results. It is great to know that up to seven people including at least one graduate student will be trained to work with sheep as part of this project. There is plan to publish multiple progress reports through the ALP’s newsletter, and plan two producer events to educate on effective methods of parasite management in Alberta sheep flocks. Many thanks to RDAR for supporting the sheep industry by investing in this project.