AI-empowered test using new biomarkers provides breakthrough disease detection 

21/09/2023

MI:RNA trebles identification rates of Johne’s disease in livestock 

DIAGNOSTICS testing company MI:RNA has developed a new AI-empowered testing method for early disease detection. This new technology is showing preliminary data of 73% sensitivity and 71% specificity in identifying Johne’s disease, a chronic inflammatory condition that impacts the health, welfare and productivity of cattle and other livestock. With further research, these numbers are expected to increase significantly. 

This method has the potential to detect early stages of infection and predict the outcome of the disease, significantly building on existing testing methods used in the agricultural sector. 

Current testing practices for Johne’s disease, due to the nature of the infection, mean that identification of the disease is difficult, with current sensitivities 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 diagnostic testing company to use groundbreaking microRNA assay technology. MicroRNAs 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 excellent biomarkers of disease and can significantly improve identification of Johne’s and other complex conditions, and predict disease outcomes more accurately as the research develops.

Modern breeding practices have made many agricultural, equine and domestic animals

more susceptible to health problems, particularly chronic diseases. Earlier diagnosis of disease means a vast improvement in the quality and length of life for domestic pets, and increased productivity, mitigation of economic losses and a reduction in carbon equivalent emissions in livestock farming. This is hugely important for achieving sustainable, carbon neutral business models.

MI:RNA’s new diagnostic testing innovation will allow veterinarians, farmers and pet owners to easily test for a variety of conditions. Target areas include heart and kidney disease, osteoarthritis and bovine tuberculosis, along with effective general wellness and preoperative screening. The tests are carried out by means of blood and potentially in the future, milk or urine.

The diagnostics company has received £500,000 of second-round funding from Innovate UK to help further product and technology development and pave a final route to market around the world. 

The global veterinary diagnostic market is valued at an estimated $35 billion annually, with the UK government spending an estimated £70 million every year on animal disease control, and a further estimated £50 million of industry costs attributed to disease. 

Eve Hanks is founder and CEO of MI:RNA. 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 breakthrough that we’ve already achieved in Johne’s testing is unparalleled, and has provided an opportunity for MI:RNA to pitch our business concept in the USA to the The Kansas City Animal Health Summit. Following our presentation, we have now progressed through to the final selection stage for European Innovation Council funding for our work on Johne’s disease. 

“In terms of future applications, microRNAs can assist with vital drug discovery, progressing future diagnostic testing and understanding disease pathways more effectively. We’ve already made remarkable progress and we know that with the continued backing of our tech, AI and health experts and with the correct funding, that we can do so much more.” 

Dr Annie Williams is the Business Development Manager at CIEL (Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock). She said:  

“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. The use of AI and new scientific developments is critical to address some of the challenges the livestock sector faces. It is exciting to see how early disease detection could help to control some of these challenges.

The whole MI:RNA team are fantastic to work with and have been actively engaged in opportunities within the CIEL network. They’re enthusiastic and keen to learn more about the livestock sector and ensure their diagnostic technology truly delivers for farmers.”

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