World-first system launched to detect disease in livestock


What's believed to be a world-first system has just been launched to help with early detection of diseases in our livestock.

Kiwi vet research start up Ingenum has launched the system called Sentinel, that aims to reduce the need for a large scale response in fatal animal diseases.

Its founder Tom Brownlie has seen first hand the devastation mass outbreaks can cause.

"I graduated into the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak in the UK and that had a profound effect on how I saw agriculture, how I saw livestock and the effect it had on farmers," Brownlie says.

More than six million livestock were slaughtered at a cost of billions of dollars.

"I started out as a vet making the diagnoses and I ended up building some of the fire sites," Brownlie says.

"Driving back down some of the motorways there and just seeing smoke arising from some of the piles was quite profound."

The prospect of the disease arriving here is nerve-wracking for Brownlie, which is why he's partnered with Qrious, Spark Business Group's artificial intelligence and data analytics business, to launch an early warning system.

It gathers data form government agencies, vet practices and on farm technology and uses artificial intelligence to detect health issues within animals that the human eye can't see.

Qrious' Christopher Laing says the data is widespread, but helps to give an accurate picture of the health of livestock nationwide.

"The machine finds ways to integrate all of this data together and understand at a high level where there might be subtle patterns emerging that indicate that disease is present or that its spreading," Laing says.

If there's inconsistency in the data, it'll raise an alert for authorities to take action.

"As the data is coming in, it's not waiting til that evening to sit down and have a think about it, it's in real time assessing is this data starting to indicate that we have a problem?" Laing says.

"So as fast as we can collect the data sentinel can process it and it can get that information out to the biosecurity responses that need to happen.

"Time is of the essence when you're dealing with any kind of outbreak- we saw this with humans in the coronavirus pandemic- that the earlier you can get onto something the better chance you have of stopping it, the closer we can get to data coming in in real time and acting in real time the more farms we'll be able to save from potentially devastating outbreaks."

Massey University's Professor Richard Laven says "it's a huge advance in terms of what they're able to do in terms of identifying disease before our conventional diagnostics get there".

But it's not just foot and mouth disease that's on our radar.

Tom Brownlie says some of the others "that are very much breathing down our necks" are African swine fever and blue tongue virus.

It could also be useful with the current outbreak of mycoplasma bovis.

It was limited to just one property in May, but recently there has been new infections taking the number of infected properties to three.

MPI says although it's not unexpected, strict surveillance and monitoring is still needed.

"We do expect to find more infection at the tail end of the disease outbreak, early identification's critical, and its really important that we've got good surveillance systems in place," says Simon Andrew, MPI's mycoplasma bovis programme director.

Sentinel is already up and running here and in Australia, with hopes to be launched in Europe next year.

Credit: 1NEWS 

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