Researchers developing test to detect salmon diseases with single blood sample

A salmon swimming in blue water.

A new project given funding from the United Kingdom Innovation Fund (SIF) is developing a non-lethal immunology tool that will look to monitor aspects of Atlantic salmon health from a single blood sample.

During the five month-feasibility project, a research consortium will investigate immunological biomarkers for pancreas disease, complex gill disease, bacterial infection, and cardiomyopathy syndrome (CMS) in salmon. With funding from SIF and the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), the project team of the University of the West of Scotland (UWS), WellFish Diagnostics, Bakkafrost Scotland, Vertebrate Antibodies Limited (VAL), and the University of Aberdeen’s Scottish Fish Immunology Research Centre will develop antibodies to probe key markers in fish blood that indicate an immune system response to four of the most common health challenges.

The second phase of the project will use the biomarkers to develop a commercially available, high throughput blood testing platform, based on WellFish Diagnostics’ existing rapid clinical chemistry-based health assessment kits.

According to the project team, having access to immunological data from salmon stocks will provide salmon farmers with a non-lethal early warning system for potential health issues, allowing them to monitor the progress of health challenges, check how the fish respond, and establish which treatments have been most effective for fish recovery.

They will then be able to take early and appropriate action to protect their fish.

“The kits we are aiming to develop through this project are the final piece of the puzzle for fish health. Adding the ability to proactively monitor the immune response of salmon to existing diseases will enable quicker, preventative action to be taken when a challenge to fish health emerges – it will be a big step forward and allow farmers to see all aspects of fish health,” UWS Aquaculture Health Laboratory’s Professor of Ecotoxicology Brian Quinn said.

Quinn said that because the test will be non-lethal, the project can take larger sample numbers and obtain a broader view of the overall welfare of fish populations.

“Our aim is to facilitate an even more proactive approach to fish welfare in the aquaculture sector, building on the significant progress already made,” he said.

The new approach is taken from similar immunological testing used for humans and agricultural animals. It will separate infection-based responses from other potential stressors, such as nutritional and environmental factors, to provide more accurate data. Blood sampling will also mean farmers can take larger, more representative samples from salmon populations.

“Using our existing clinical chemistry technology as a base, the new immunology kits will help salmon farmers gain a more holistic view of the health of their fish stocks and take remedial action to stop health challenges from growing and spreading. It will provide an early indication of the presence of a health challenge and what kind of challenge it was, allowing us to see early stages of disease,” WellFish Diagnostics Research and Development Manager Josip Barisic said. “While this is only the first step towards making this kit commercially available, we have already proved it can be done with our current health tests. When it is fully developed, it will also support our expansion plans into Norway, Canada, and Chile.”

Photo courtesy of The Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre 


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