Research News

North-South partnership to investigate role of vitamin D in bovine TB

  • 10 November, 2022


The Irish Government has funded a tripartite collaboration to investigate the role of vitamin D in bovine tuberculosis (bTB). The project has been funded by the Higher Education Authority under the ‘Shared Island’ initiative, which seeks to build new North-South partnerships in strategically important challenge areas for society across the island of Ireland.


EU, UK and Irish goals to eradicate bTB cannot be met without an intensified focus on the reasons behind recurring TB on farms. Across the island of Ireland, it is estimated that TB infected herds have a 30-40% chance of a repeat breakdown within three years, due to a relapse of infection.


Three research teams, led by Dr Kieran Meade in University College Dublin (UCD), in collaboration with Dr Tom Ford at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and Professor Ilias Kyriazakis from the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's University Belfast Queen’s University Belfast, have partnered to examine how circulating vitamin D concentrations may influence the immune response and outcome of disease on farms which experience bTB relapses.


Dr Kieran Meade, who is based in UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, said: “Multiple studies now point to an animal-specific issue that prevents current diagnostic tests from identifying all truly infected cattle, and these cattle act as a reservoir of persistent infection. The weight of evidence from the human literature and our exciting preliminary data suggests that vitamin D status will have a decisive impact on livestock immunity to diseases including TB.”


Investigating immune function and the role vitamin D may play in its modulation is important foundational science. With support from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the teams aim to identify host factors contributing to the relapse of infections in specific cattle or in herds, and this new knowledge may augment the national strategies for TB eradication, north and south.


Dr Tom Ford from AFBI said: “This project provides an exciting opportunity to further understand baseline cattle immune system function, how it responds to the bacterium that causes bovine tuberculosis and if vitamin D influences immunological outcomes - from disease resilience to diagnostics.”


No study has previously comprehensively characterised the host immune response in cattle from herds experiencing recurring TB infection.


Professor Ilias Kyriazakis from Queen’s, who has a background in veterinary medicine, said: “Queen’s has previously associated vitamin D status of livestock with their immune response to a variety of pathogens, and this exciting collaboration offers us the opportunity to build on our previous research.”


The project funding is a first step toward developing an immunology hub, bringing together expertise in nutrition, immunology and livestock management, to enable an all-island approach to: capturing the extent of Vitamin D Insufficiency (VDI) in herds across the island; and determining the association between VD status and immune responses to mycobacterial antigens.


Furthermore, building a new hub focused on bovine immunology on the shared island will foster increased collaboration and bring a wealth of collaborative expertise to addressing knowledge gaps and developing improved controls for multiple livestock diseases.