The Non-Vesicular Disease Reference Laboratory Group brings together all the reference laboratories working on non-vesicular diseases at Pirbright. These diseases include bluetongue (BT), African horse sickness, African swine fever, morbilliviruses (peste des petits ruminants and rinderpest – which was declared eradicated in May 2011), and capripox viruses (lumpy skin disease and sheep and goat pox).
These Reference Laboratories provide an essential diagnostic and advice service to the UK Government (Defra), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), European Union (EU) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
The group was instrumental in diagnosing the first ever incursion of BT into northern Europe in 2006, the first outbreak of BT in England in September 2007 and the first outbreak of African swine fever in Georgia in 2007.
As European Community reference laboratory for BT, the group organises an annual proficiency test, sending out panels of samples to all EC countries annually. The reference lab maintains unique virus collections made up from the viruses isolated from samples sent to the laboratory.
As arboviruses (arthropod borne viruses) are present in the blood of infected animals, the group uses blood samples to detect both antibody to the virus and the virus itself. Antibodies to most arboviruses can be detected with an ELISA test, and confirmed using a serum neutralisation test. These tests do not detect the actual virus, only the animal’s immune response to it, and cannot differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals.
The presence of viruses are detected using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to test for the genetic material of the virus in the submitted sample. When the serotype or lineage of the virus needs to be determined, it can be done using a series of serotype-specific PCR tests or genome sequencing, and can be confirmed by virus neutralisation tests.
The group also carries out applied research related to the development and validation of new diagnostic assays and vaccines, as well as the epidemiology and control of the exotic non-vesicular viruses within its portfolio. The group is integrated within the Vector-borne Viral Diseases Programme and works very closely with the Arbovirus Molecular Research Group, African Swine Fever Virus Group, Orbivirus Immunology Group and the Entomology Group.
As part of its commitment to the EU, FAO and OIE the Non-Vesicular Disease Reference Laboratory group organises scientific and technical training. Each year the Non-Vesicular Disease Reference Laboratories run a training course allowing scientists to improve their knowledge of exotic virus diseases and provide training in the principles and applications of more modern biotechnology (and thus extend their laboratory’s diagnostic capabilities).
The Non-Vesicular Disease Reference Laboratories, as the parent institute, have completed OIE-funded laboratory twinning projects with reference laboratories in both Morocco and Uganda. They are currently undertaking another project with Tanzania. The aim of these twinning projects is to upgrade the diagnostic capabilities of the national reference labs in these countries in selected diseases, so that they can eventually gain OIE reference laboratory status.