Sheep scab is a widespread problem in the UK and is often present as a chronic sub-clinical condition. However, even the latter is sufficient to significantly compromise performance. The disease is characterised by a yellow scab on the skin surface, and is accompanied by restlessness, scratching, wool-loss, bleeding wounds and loss of condition. In particular, the disease appears to cause considerable distress, irritation and/or pain and is, therefore, of major welfare concern.
Current disease control strategies are heavily reliant upon chemotherapy; however concerns over residues, eco-toxicity and the development of parasite resistance have led to questions being raised regarding the sustainability of our current strategies and an interest in the development of alternatives. Because of this, alternative methods of control for mite infection are urgently sought.
Studies have shown that the primary lesion is due to an intense local inflammatory cell response indicative of a hypersensitivity reaction. The early interactions between the mite and host skin are critical for lesion development and the subsequent maintenance and survival of the mite. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that mite survival is dependent on the successful initiation of the lesion, indicating that the mites may prompt the host inflammatory response for their own benefit, i.e. production of a food source and a suitable microclimate. Our scientists aim to identify the key host signaling pathways involved in the instigation of the sheep scab lesion and thus critical for the establishment of the mite. This approach is being combined with efforts to characterise the mite factors responsible for instigating the lesion in order to identify potential vaccine and diagnostic candidates and further studies will evaluate whether these can be used in a vaccine strategy to control sheep scab.
Research at Moredun seeks to understand the mechanisms of immunity to the sheep scab mite, Psoroptes ovis, with a view to developing effective vaccines and diagnostic tests based on sound scientific rationale.
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