About This Project
Rabies is one of the greatest threats to the continued survival of the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus). Vaccination has the potential to prevent mass mortalities associated with the virus, but single-dose strategies may not result in sufficient immunity. This study therefore focuses on the effects of a rabies booster vaccination on serum antibody levels in African wild dogs. Results may serve to inform future vaccination programmes and help secure the future of this endangered species.
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What is the context of this research?
The African Wild Dog is one of the most endangered mammals in Africa. Diseases are a key factor contributing to their continued decline.
Rabies, a zoonotic virus of global concern that almost inevitably leads to the death of an infected individual, has wiped out entire packs of Wild Dogs and has been associated with complete local extinction. Domestic dogs are reservoirs of the disease, and as humans and dog populations continue to encroach on wildlife habitat, the risk of a rabies outbreak among the remaining packs of Wild Dogs also increases. Vaccination is the only effective way to protect these animals from infection with the fatal pathogen, but there is growing concern about whether the single vaccination currently given to at-risk packs is effective enough.
What is the significance of this project?
Analysing over 20 years of vaccination data and serum samples collected from captive African Wild Dogs in the UK, this project will examine how a rabies vaccination booster affects serum antibody levels, as well as type of antibody produced. While some models on rabies vaccination strategies in African Wild Dogs have been run, little work has been done on the effects of multiple-dose vaccination, despite studies suggesting that single-dose vaccination may not be protective. Data on whether booster vaccination against rabies elicits a more efficient immune response is therefore crucial for optimising conservation measures for this species.
To do this, a novel, high-throughput immunoassay will be developed, wich allows multiple analyses to be performed simultaneously on the same sample.
What are the goals of the project?
The serum samples to be analysed stem from repeated sampling of 24 individuals, which have been vaccinated against rabies either once or twice. Antibodies against two different rabies proteins will be quantified and categorised in all samples. This also allows us to determine whether Wild Dogs produce more binding or neutralising (i.e. protective) antibodies, and will therefore give us a differentiated view of which vaccination regimen has a higher chance of eliciting protective immunity.
The cost- and time-efficient immunoassay to be used in this project will be developed especially for African Wild Dog samples. Reagents and concentrations will be optimised and compared to Gold Standards, allowing future studies to benefit from it.
Serum analyses will be performed using a Luminex immunoassay. This technique uses antigen-coupled beads, which are internally dyed and thus uniquely identifiable. Two batches of beads will be prepared, coated with Rabies G- and Rabies N-protein respectively. Both types of antibodies potentially present in a sample can bind to their respective batch. Monoclonal antibodies will serve as the positive control. A secondary antibody, biotinylated with a reporter dye can then bind. Analysis of antibody levels in the serum is conducted by reading beads on a FlexMap® analyser. This flow-based instrument uses two lasers to classify bead type and strength of reporter dye-derived signal for each bead. Analyser and biotinylated detection antibodies have already been purchased, all other reagents need to be acquired. Serum samples have been collected and are stored domestically, but will need to be safely transported to our lab in London for analysis.
While preparatory work on the project has already begun, assay optimisation and analysis of samples will commence in May 2022. Following data analysis, results will be finalised in July and August 2022. The results of this project will form the basis of my Master's thesis, with the final manuscript to be presented to the Royal Veterinary College and the Zoological Society of London in mid-August 2022. Upon completion, I aim to publish the results of this study.
Apr 04, 2022
Apr 30, 2022
Finish laboratory preparations (sample and reagent acquisition)
May 01, 2022
Begin sample analysis and Luminex assay optimisation
Jun 30, 2022
Jul 17, 2022
Meet the Team
I am currently a Master's student at the Zoological Society and the Royal Veterinary College of London, studying the MSc Wild Animal Health.
Throughout my years as a veterinary student, I remember frequently being told that wildlife research was "only for biologists". However, this MSc course has shown me that quite the opposite is true: Interdisciplinary work is essential to inform effective conservation strategies. Whilst studying for my current degree, I found wildlife immunology to be an often underexplored topic, and developed a special interest in the field. Having worked on oral rabies vaccination of the European wolf (Canis lupus) for my doctoral thesis, I am thrilled to be applying my veterinary background to this important project, which will have real-life conservation impacts for African Wild Dogs.
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