Reports say a new cattle vaccine, created by University of Saskatchewan graduate student David Asper, could soon make food and water around the world safer for human consumption.
The work is premised on the idea that humans can be protected from harmful bacteria by vaccinating cattle that are the source of the bacteria.
The veterinary microbiology student's work builds on groundbreaking research by his supervisor Andrew Potter, director of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre, which led to the first cattle vaccine against E. coli O157-the leading cause of 'hamburger disease.'
The vaccine prevents the bacteria from attaching to the animal's intestines and from colonizing, cutting the disease off at the source.
"The E.coli O157 vaccine is the first of its kind worldwide and is expected to significantly lessen the amount of E. coli O157 present in food products and also in the environment," said Potter.
However, while E. coli O157 is the most prevalent type of E. coli in North America, it's just one of hundreds of E. coli bacteria around the world that cause disease by producing a toxin called Shiga toxin.
These Shiga toxin-producing E. coli-or STEC for short-produce infections that can range from very mild to severe or even life-threatening.
"Right now, STEC bacteria is the number one cause of renal (kidney) failure in children around the world. It affects adults too, but children are the most susceptible," Asper said.
STEC bacteria cause disease in humans if meat becomes contaminated during slaughter or if feces mix with groundwater, polluting drinking or swimming water or food supplies.
However, the STEC bacteria that cause human illness generally do not make animals sick so healthy cattle often have STEC bacteria living in their intestines.
What Asper has been able to do is create a vaccine prototype to protect cattle against a number of non-O157 STEC bacteria that are responsible for human outbreaks of disease around the world.
Potter said: "David has broadened the scope of the work we've done, and I think the impact is large. He essentially created this vaccine on his own.
With funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and Bioniche, commercial developer of Potter's vaccine, Asper has created the second-generation vaccine prototype and participated in initial testing on mice and cattle.
The vaccine will now be put through extensive testing that could take three to five years.