New nano sensor detects dairy cattle diseases quickly, easily

Device ready to move to commercialization
By Lilian Schaer for AgInnovation Ontario

Suresh GryphSens Pic1A new handheld instrument can quickly and easily detect two significant diseases in dairy cattle before the animals become sick.

Invented at the University of Guelph by engineering professor Suresh Neethirajan and researchers in the BioNano Laboratory, the nano biosensor uses small test strips to indicate whether a cow has ketosis or metabolic disease by analyzing a small volume of blood or milk.

Nanosensing diagnostic platforms for biomarkers of ketosis and metabolic disease have been developed, which help to rapidly identify elevated levels that can indicate the presence of either of the diseases in animals that appear healthy.

Currently, blood samples must be taken and sent to a lab for analysis, a process that is costly and can take five to seven days to return a diagnosis.

“There is no on-farm test available that lets you test for both diseases at the same time,” says Neethirajan. “This device is like a diabetic test – with only one drop of blood you can get a precise measurement of whether a disease could be present or not.”

“This device will help us shift from diagnosing to predicting disease,” he adds. “For example, detecting these biomarkers during the subclinical stage can identify a cow with a 90 percent likelihood of developing a certain disease.”

The instrument will show a green check mark if an animal’s levels are normal and a red x means the presence of elevated levels – the result is given in about two minutes. Early detection allows farmers to change or supplement feed, for example, to avoid the ailments, side effects and costs of the full-blown diseases.

Neethirajan says devices to monitor novel infectious agents can also be developed for other dairy cattle diseases, such as clinical mastitis and Johne’s Disease, as well as immuno-deficiency in calves, and even Lyme Disease and Blue Tongue in beef cattle down the road.

The University is now seeking an industry partner to further product development and take the device to market.

“We’ve done the hard part in detecting the biomarker to give the information for decision-making, now the next step is taking it to the users,” says Neethirajan.

Although the cost of the test at the farm level will be driven by the company leading the commercialization, the goal would be to keep it below $2 per cow, per test, adds David Hobson of the University of Guelph’s Catalyst Centre, whose mandate is to help take research to market.

“If you can monitor daily and monitor cheaply enough, you can nip problems in the bud. Cows are most vulnerable before and after calving so if we can collect good, clean data, we can act before there is a problem,” he explains, adding the technology could become a regular screening tool in predictive disease management.

A future vision sees the handheld technology integrated into a robotic milking system, for example, which could automatically measure biomarkers in milk and trigger attention.

Hobson says a company already involved in collecting data on farm would be good fit as a commercialization partner, and although partnering with a Canadian group would be ideal, they’re open to opportunities globally.

“The long term vision is a single platform with ‘apps’ as part of surveillance and early warning systems for disease prediction for dairy, beef, poultry, swine etc., to make smart decisions on-farm,” Neethirajan says.

The development of the technology was supported by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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