New vaccine protects against paralysis tick

16 May 2017

The Australian paralysis tick, Ixodes holocyclus, is one of the most virulent ticks in the world, with a single tick capable of killing a large dog.

The tick is indigenous to the Australian marsupial bandicoot and incidentally infests companion animals (cats and dogs), livestock and humans during the course of its life cycle. Each year approximately 100,000 domestic animals are affected with up to 10,000 companion animals treated at veterinary surgeries for symptoms of paralysis. All dogs and cats are currently recommended to have monthly and fortnightly preventative medication, respectively.

Professor Ala Tabor

During feeding, the adult female tick injects neurotoxins into the host which can progress to paralysis and death if not treated. Currently only crude dog anti-sera are available as treatments which are successful only if administered during early stages of the paralysis, meaning that prevention is extremely important. Preventative options currently include pesticides which prevent tick attachment and are also not fully effective or safe. Furthermore, most preventative and treatment approaches are available only to dogs as the formulations are toxic to cats.

Professor Tabor and her team at the University of Queensland have developed a novel peptide cocktail that can successfully prevent paralysis tick symptoms. The researchers identified the primary holocyclotoxins (HTs) in tick saliva that cause disease in dogs. Recombinant analogues of those HTs were subsequently generated, eight of which are included in the optimized vaccine cocktail and have undergone a successful vaccination trial in dogs.

The pilot study showed that administration of the vaccine cocktail prevented the development of paralysis symptoms in dogs after 7 days of tick attachment. In unvaccinated animals who had a tick attachment of at least 6 days, two of three dogs developed moderate to severe paralysis symptoms, demonstrating the efficacy of the vaccine in a small trial.

The vaccine will be suitable for preventing paralysis tick symptoms in dogs, cats and cattle.

UniQuest is currently seeking to engage with animal health companies to license and co-develop this technology. 

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