Published: 15 May 2014

Interview: Professor David Stuart opening 2014 Science & Society series

Foot-and-mouth vaccine

Foot-and-mouth disease remains a global problem and the ability to produce a stable, effective vaccine remains several years away, says Professor David Stuart, ahead of opening the University of Liverpool’s 2014 Science and Society lecture series.

Professor Stuart, MRC Professor of Structural Biology at the University of Oxford’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, said: “At the moment, globally, we are not winning the battle. We’ve recently had a serious outbreak in Japan. These things do happen.”

Professor Stuart will open the series on May 20, when he delivers a talk asking: Can we avoid future outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease through vaccination? Although the UK has avoided an outbreak since 2007, the £8billion cost of the 2001 epidemic underlines its potentially devastating impact.

Today, the disease remains a constant danger to livestock in Africa, India and parts of Asia, where imperfect vaccines are used in an attempt to combat the problem.

Professor Stuart said: “In Africa, it’s one of the major contributors to poverty. Many places have an active policy of vaccination and several billion doses of vaccine are given every year. But the current vaccines are quite ineffective in a variety of ways.

“How can we make a vaccine satisfactorily without producing live virus at all? How can we make a vaccine more effective, eliminating the need to revaccinate every six to eight months?

“One of the weaknesses of the vaccine is that it is physically unstable and needs to be refrigerated from the point of manufacture. If you are a farmer in rural Africa, that is very problematic.

“How can we use molecular engineering methods to improve the structure so it still gives good amino response but won’t fall apart if it gets warm?”

Professor Stuart and his team have been working with computational models to try and crack these problems and have so far the results have been “very good”. The next step, according to Professor Stuart is to acquire some data that shows how they can make the vaccine particles “significantly stronger”.

Professor Stuart added: “After this, we will need to ensure we have a commercially viable way of producing the vaccine. It would be several years before something was on the market, even if things go very well.”

Professor David Stuart will deliver his talk, entitled: Can we avoid future outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease through vaccination? on Tuesday May 20 at 5.30pm. The first in the 2014 Science and Society Lecture Series takes place in the Victoria Gallery and Museum’s Leggate Lecture Theatre. Tickets are free, but must be booked. Visit www.liverpool.ac.uk/events/science-and-society or call 0151 794 2650

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