AI test using new biomarkers provides Johne's disease breakthrough

The new diagnostic testing innovation will allow farmers and vets to test for a variety of livestock conditions
The new diagnostic testing innovation will allow farmers and vets to test for a variety of livestock conditions

A new AI-empowered testing method for early disease detection has been developed, showing 73% sensitivity and 71% specificity in identifying Johne’s disease.

Diagnostics testing company MI:RNA, which has developed the new method, said it had the potential to detect early stages of infection and predict the outcome of the disease.

Current testing practices for Johne’s disease, due to the nature of the infection, mean that identification of the disease is difficult.

Current sensitivities are of around 10-40% and little to no ability to diagnose early stages of infection.

The loss of productivity due to Johne’s to the UK agricultural economy is estimated to be in excess of £10 million annually.

The true costs of the disease may be much higher however, as it’s estimated to be prevalent in 50% of all UK cattle farms.

MI:RNA is the first company to use microRNA assay technology, which are newly discovered biomarkers that manage the immune system and immune responses, and therefore, act as regulators for disease progression or resolution.

This makes them biomarkers of disease, with the firm saying it could significantly improve identification of Johne’s and other complex conditions, and predict disease outcomes more accurately as the research develops.

Eve Hanks, founder and CEO of MI:RNA, said the breakthrough that the company had already achieved in Johne’s testing was 'unparalleled'.

She said: “Increasing market and global pressures on bovine protein production means that animal health has never been more important.

"This is a key area of research and development for MI:RNA and biomarker science combined with our unique AI-powered modelling, means that we can significantly improve animal health and reduce greenhouse gas output."

The diagnostics company has received £500,000 of second-round funding from Innovate UK to help further product and technology development.

Dr Annie Williams, business development manager at CIEL (Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock), said the use of AI was 'critical' to address some of the challenges the livestock sector face.

“MI:RNA is a great team of experts in their area of specialty and are able to clearly explain new concepts to a wide range of audiences to ensure co-development of their diagnostic technology for industry use.

"Their focus on early disease detection is driven by priorities in animal health, but also more broadly for net zero and sustainability targets.

"It is exciting to see how early disease detection could help to control some of these challenges."