Scottish researchers to develop first non-lethal immunology testing kit

The immunology tool will allow the monitoring of all aspects of Atlantic salmon health from a single blood sample.

SAIC - Salmon
October 17, 2022

Supported by the UK Seafood Innovation Fund (SIF) and the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), a consortium made up of research groups from the University of the West of Scotland (UWS), WellFish Diagnostics, Bakkafrost Scotland, Vertebrate Antibodies Limited (VAL), and the University of Aberdeen’s Scottish Fish Immunology Research Centre is developing a new test to investigate the immune system response of salmon to common health challenges.

Firstly, the consortium will investigate immunological biomarkers for pancreas disease, complex gill disease, bacterial infection, and cardiomyopathy syndrome (CMS) in salmon. In the second phase of the project, these biomarkers will be used to develop a commercially available “high throughput” blood testing platform based on the existing rapid clinical chemistry-based health assessment kit from UWS’s spinout WellFish Diagnostics.

Although the project is still at the first stage for making this kit commercially available, its effectiveness has been already proven by WellFish Diagnostics current health tests. Therefore, the fully developed kit is expected to be launched in foreign markets such as Norway, Canada, and Chile.

Based on blood sampling, the new approach will be able to separate infection-based responses and other potential stressors, such as nutritional and environmental factors, to provide more accurate data. The recollection of immunological data from stocked salmon will allow farmers to detect early potential health issues. With this new non-lethal system, farmers will be able to monitor continuously the health of the fish, check their responses to potential stress, and establish effective treatments.

“The kits we are aiming to develop through this project are the final piece of the puzzle for fish health. Adding the ability to proactively monitor the immune response of salmon to existing diseases will enable quicker, preventative action to be taken when a challenge to fish health emerges. It will be a big step forward and allow farmers to see all aspects of fish health,” said Brian Quinn, professor of ecotoxicology at UWS’s Aquaculture Health Laboratory. “Because it is non-lethal, we can take larger sample numbers and obtain a broader view of the overall welfare of fish populations. Our aim is to facilitate an even more proactive approach to fish welfare in the aquaculture sector, building on the significant progress already made.”

“Using our existing clinical chemistry technology as a base, the new immunology kits will help salmon farmers gain a more holistic view of the health of their fish stocks and take remedial action to stop health challenges from growing and spreading. It will provide an early indication of the presence of a health challenge and what kind of challenge it was, allowing us to see early stages of the disease,” said Josip Barisic, research and development manager at WellFish Diagnostics.