Testing kit to tackle antimicrobial resistance in Indian dairy farms with The University of Reading

We have been working with Dr Al Edwards, Dr Partha Ray and Dr Sarah Needs and their team at the University of Reading’s Schools of Pharmacy and Agriculture to understand and develop a rugged, self-contained prototype testing kit designed for vets to conduct vital microbiology tests for Indian dairy farmers without needing a lab.

The project builds on a successful Innovate UK bid with the University of Reading, Capillary Film Technology, Design Science and the National Institute of Animal Biotechnology in India.

Find out more at milk-guard.com

What we did

We developed a joint bid with the team of veterinary scientists and microbiologists to address the issues of antibiotic resistance in resource poor settings where regulation and availability of testing to support effective antibiotic treatments is weak and costs of lab-based testing are prohibitive.

Problems

  • Increased prevalence of mastitis
  • Increased prevalence of mastitis pathogens resistant to antibiotics
  • No rapid test to profile mastitis pathogen before selection of antibiotic for treatment
  • Frequent failure to treat mastitis due to AMR leads to overuse of antibiotics
  • District veterinary office: no lab, cannot do testing
  • Small dairy farm in rural India: typically 1–5 cows, family run
  • Air-dried cow-dung used as fuel source for cooking

How to engage vets in West Bengal during a pandemic?

Due to the covid-19 pandemic, we reimagined our field research and made use of mobile and digital technologies to communicate with rural vets in Bengal using amongst other technologies, whatsapp and MS Teams. The remote workshops, run by Dr Partha Ray, included sharing the proposed Milk Guard service with vets using mobile screen shots and descriptions over Whatsapp groups and used the group feature to capture their feedback as well as understand more about farmers and vets knowledge around illness, treatment and AMR.

As one of the vets explained, “If this kit works properly it will bring a revolution in dairy industry globally”

As part of the Innovate UK monitoring process, we explained our Design Research activities including the successful remote discovery workshops, service mapping, test kit development and the creation of the Milk Guard brand. We also explained the engineering and microbiology developments that the team undertook in parallel with design research.

 

Proposed future journey map (MVP) for discussion with farmers and vets

Updates on engineering and microbiology

Following feedback from vets and microbiologists we helped the team to prepare prototype testing kits for shipping to India for initial trials in October.

The prototype kits contain everything needed to test for bacteria that cause mastitis in dairy cattle and can identify resistance to all 5 commonly prescribed antibiotics, including:

  • Clear instructions and diagrams designed to make it simple and easy to use
  • Everything needed to prepare tests from a milk sample for a cow or buffalo with mastitis
  • A complete set of ‘tiny test tubes’ which are microcapillary arrays containing a total of 30 microlitre reaction chambers
  • By measuring bacterial growth inside the T3 test strips, 30 separate growth curves allow accurate measurement of resistance or susceptibility to a range of antibiotics
  • Results are recorded using a smartphone camera and allow the vet to select the most suitable antibiotic to treat the animal.

 

We produced a website for sharing project information, news updates and to serve as a resource where instructions can be downloaded.

Collaborative process

Milk Guard has been developed collaboratively by a team of researchers and designers who have been working with vets and specialists in West Bengal to understand their underlying needs and the challenges of controlling mastitis infections in cattle farms through a creative and people-centred research process.

Why is Milk Guard needed?

Mastitis is a significant problem in India’s dairy herds, affecting milk production and quality, farm economics and animal welfare (Smith, et al., 2001). In India, the disease is estimated to account for nearly 70% of the losses incurred during milk production, costing the country over Rs. 7165 crores (circa £765,000,000) annually (Bansal and Gupta, 2009).

It also threatens food safety and the farming communities’ own health and wellbeing.

Long term goal and next steps

The only way to cure mastitis is to treat cattle with the right antibiotics within a few hours after diagnosis, but antimicrobial resistance is a growing problem across our farms:

  • Many mastitis pathogens are resistant to common antibiotics
  • Existing antibiotic sensitivity tests are too slow to guide better antibiotic selection
  • This is leading to poor treatment of Mastitis and contributing to overuse of the wrong antibiotics.

Our long-term goal is to tackle the challenge of rising AMR levels that leads to reduced milk production through hard-to-treat mastitis in dairy cattle (cutting family income), and untreatable human infections.

The team are now applying for phase 2 funding with the aim to further miniaturise, simplify and ruggedise the service and to begin to develop the market for its commercial adoption through sustainable development goals.