Fighting scour and superbugs

Developing a natural treatment for scour, or pre-weaning diarrhoea in piglets

Professor Rob Pike and Dr Lakshmi Wijeyewickrema are working with ASX-listed Anatara Lifesciences to develop a natural treatment for scour, or pre-weaning diarrhoea in piglets. Using an extract found in pineapple stems, DetachTM reduces the use of antibiotics in production animals, and with it, the global problem of bacterial resistance.

Antibiotics and meat production

Pork producers have traditionally relied on antibiotics to treat scour, a common cause of death in piglets. It costs the Australian pig industry more than $7 million each year, but the cost to human health is even greater. The high use of antibiotics in meat production has led to the rise of multi-drug resistant bacteria, known as superbugs, and these superbugs affect humans.

A natural alternative

DetachTM offers pig producers a non-antibiotic alternative for treating scour – and the main active ingredient comes from pineapple stems. “The pineapple extract does not attack the bacteria that cause scour,” explains Professor Pike, “but prevents the bacteria from attaching to the cells in the animal’s stomach, which leads to diarrhoea.”

Anatara Lifesciences recently completed three field trials of DetachTM, with plans to launch the product in Australia in 2017. Professor Pike and Dr Wijeyewickrema will oversee critical research and development work to harness the full potential of the pineapple extract.

“There are three important molecules in the extract, and two are critical to the treatment of scour,” said Professor Pike. “Using recombinant DNA technology, we are working to develop methods for testing the components, to isolate and produce the two beneficial proteins, and to learn more about how these molecules interact with gut cells to prevent inflammation and diarrhoea.”

Of global importance

It is game-changing research given consumer demand for antibiotic-free products, and worldwide regulatory changes that will restrict the veterinary use of antimicrobial medicines and ban the use of antibiotics to encourage animal growth.

“This research is a wonderful opportunity to treat scour in a way that doesn’t cause antibiotic resistance,” said Professor Pike. “We hope it will open up new avenues for the treatment of diarrhoea in humans.”

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