AFRICA – The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) researchers are on the brink of a groundbreaking scientific achievement—a potential ASF vaccine already showing remarkable efficacy in controlled experiments.

African Swine Fever (ASF), a highly resilient virus, poses significant challenges due to its ability to survive in various environments for extended periods. The virus’s capacity to mutate and evade host immune responses has thwarted vaccine development efforts for decades, exacerbating its devastating impact on global pig populations.

Led by principal scientist Lucilla Steinaa, ILRI’s ASF vaccine research has reached a critical milestone after six years of research. Leveraging CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology, the team has developed a vaccine candidate demonstrating 100% effectiveness in controlled experiments—an achievement poised to transform the trajectory of ASF control efforts.

CRISPR/Cas9 technology offers unprecedented precision in genome editing, enabling scientists to target specific genes within the ASF virus with unparalleled accuracy. Unlike traditional methods, this revolutionary approach allows for the swift identification and deletion of genes crucial for viral replication and pathogenesis.

Years of meticulous research and methodological refinement have culminated in a breakthrough for ILRI scientists. By harnessing CRISPR/Cas9, the team has expedited vaccine candidate generation, paving the way for rapid testing and evaluation in live animals—a pivotal step towards eventual deployment and impact.

“We’ve shown that with CRISPR/Cas9, within two months you can generate multiple vaccine candidates in parallel,” says Hussein Abkallo, a scientist at ILRI. 

ILRI’s success underscores the power of collaboration and innovation in addressing complex global challenges.

With funding support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and co-funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the vaccine candidate holds promise not only for ASF control but also as a platform technology for combating other pathogens.

“We’ve got the capacity here at ILRI for Africa, with funding, to advance this kind of research for livestock and diseases,” Abkallo says.

“This is really a platform technology that can be used for generating live attenuated vaccines against a variety of pathogens in the future,” Steinaa agrees. 

As ILRI researchers prepare to expand testing and seek private-sector partnerships for vaccine development, the potential applications of CRISPR/Cas9 extend far beyond ASF.

From enhancing animal breeding to combating other infectious diseases, this technology heralds a new era of precision medicine in livestock research.

For all the latest food safety news from Africa and the World, subscribe to our NEWSLETTER, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.