Development and deployment of a novel vaccine against babesiosis

March 13, 2018
Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund

women milking a cow

Photo: IDRC / Bartay

Babesiosis: A killer disease of cattle in Africa and Asia

Babesiosis is a disease of cattle and buffaloes caused by Babesia bovis, a parasite transmitted by ticks. This parasite hides in red blood cells and causes them to stick to blood vessels, enabling the parasite to avoid host immunity and causing acute infection and death. Babesiosis occurs in many parts of the world, but it is especially devastating in Africa and Asia.  

In 2014 alone, there were 268 outbreaks in South and Southeast Asia and 149 outbreaks in sub-Saharan Africa. Babesiosis is the third-most important tick-borne disease of cattle after East Coast fever and anaplasmosis. Babesiosis causes major economic losses due to death, cost of treating sick animals, and reduced production of meat, milk, and skin products.

The need for new babesia vaccines

Current vaccines against babesiosis consist of weakened living parasites that are produced by infecting cattle and then using their infected blood to vaccinate other cattle. These vaccines are not safe because they cause disease in adult animals, are contaminated with other pathogens, or cause unwanted reactions. In addition, current babesia vaccine production is cumbersome, expensive, and inhumane to cattle.

Using cutting edge technology to develop a new babesia vaccine

This project will employ cutting edge biotechnology to generate a vaccine with dual action — it will block the parasite from hiding in blood vessels and prevent transmission by ticks. The vaccine will not only prevent acute babesiosis disease and death, but it will also 

stop the parasite from infecting susceptible cattle by generating immune responses to the parasite during tick-feeding.

Expected results

The overall expected result of the proposed project is a new vaccine that will prevent the transmission of babesiosis, reduce acute disease, and prevent death.

The control of babesiosis will be significant for smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia because it will lead to better livestock health, improved food/nutrition security, and enhanced economic empowerment.

Lead institutions

This project is a collaboration between the United States Department of Agriculture, Monash University, and Biosciences eastern and central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA-ILRI) Hub.

Duration: 24 months

Budget: $1.6 million