East Coast Fever
The Scottish Government BBSRC DFID

East Coast Fever (ECF) is an economically important parasitic disease of cattle in Africa with annual losses estimated to exceed 300 million US dollars. The disease is caused by a tick-borne parasite, Theileria parva, and occurs in a large area of Eastern and Southern Africa where it is a major constraint to livestock production. The Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi have formed a research partnership in order to advance knowledge of the immunobiology of the disease.

The University of Edinburgh
The University of Glasgow

The study is funded through the Combating Infectious Diseases of Livestock for International Development (CIDLID) scheme, an initiative by The Scottish Goverment, DFID and the BBSRC. It is intended that this project will facilitate development of effective vaccines and thus achieve improved disease control leading to reduction in animal losses and alleviation of poverty.

Although treatment of infected cattle with anti-parasitic drugs and application of chemicals to prevent tick infestation can be used to control ECF, these methods are difficult to apply and generally are unaffordable by poor livestock keepers. Vaccination, therefore, offers a more sustainable means of controlling the disease. Cattle can be immunised against the disease by infection with live parasites and simultaneous drug treatment, but the immunity induced by one parasite strain is not effective against all other strains. This lack of cross-protection, which hampers vaccine development, has been shown to be mediated by parasite-specific CD8 T cell responses.

One of the aims of the project is to understand the antigenic basis of strain-restricted immunity to T. parva, in order to develop improved vaccines against ECF. It is anticipated that the results will provide methods for improving quality control of the current live vaccine, identify parasite strains that could be incorporated into an improved second generation live vaccine and indicate which antigens may need to be incorporated into future subunit vaccines.

A second major aim of the project is to investigate the role of buffalo in the transmission of ECF. African Cape buffalo are a natural reservoir for T. parva, and are thought to play an important role in disease transmission. However, the precise impact of buffalo-derived ECF in east Africa needs to be clarified. Importantly, it is unclear whether the current live vaccine is capable of protecting against buffalo-derived strains of T. parva. Field studies will be conducted during the course of the project to address both of these issues.