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Modified virus leads to African swine fever vaccine potential

Scientists have discovered a way to modify the African swine fever virus (ASFV) to reduce its ability to cause infection and protect pigs from a strain that causes severe disease.

Researchers at the UK’s Pirbright Institute deleted a gene of the ASFV that is associated with a protein believed to play a role in suppressing pigs’ immune systems, reports Vet Times.

While the modified virus can still replicate, scientists found its ability to cause infection is dramatically reduced, meaning pigs only show mild clinical signs of the disease.

After being exposed to the modified strain, the pigs in the trial were protected against further infection from a natural strain of ASFV.

Pirbright ASFV group leader Linda Dixon, who published the research in the Journal of Virology, said the next steps are to make more gene deletions to reduce the clinical signs exhibited by pigs after vaccination.

“We will also be investigating the precise role the protein plays during infection,” she added.

“This information will help us understand how it interacts with the host immune system and if the protein directly prevents immune processes, or if it has other roles we haven’t yet identified.

“Knowing more about the gene and protein will make it easier for us to modify the virus further and create a vaccine that is effective and safe.”

ASFV currently has no vaccine, so research into vaccine candidates is essential.

The virus can be hard to identify, as it displays similar clinical signs to other pig diseases, with the most harmful strains killing animals before more specific signs become apparent.

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