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by Sofia Villegas
21 September 2023
AI-powered test could save millions in disease control spending

Eve Hanks, CEO & founder of MI:RNA

AI-powered test could save millions in disease control spending

Diagnostics testing company MI:RNA has developed an AI-powered testing method which shows over 70 per cent sensitivity and specificity in diagnosing Johne's disease in cattle.

Current procedures have a sensitivity of around 25 per cent in detecting the condition, a wasting disease, which research suggests affects half of all UK cattle farms.

With an estimate of £120m in industry costs and control measures associated with disease, and a further £10m loss in productivity specifically linked to the condition, this breakthrough could potentially result in large savings for the UK agricultural economy.

Modern breeding practices have put livestock at a higher risk for health issues, specifically chronic diseases. The innovative procedure would allow for easier testing processes for a range of conditions, with focal areas including heart and kidney conditions. 

Eve Hanks, chief executive of MI:RNA, said: “Increasing market and global pressures on bovine protein production means that animal health has never been more important.

“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, we can do so much more.”

Allowing for an earlier diagnosis and a prediction of the disease’s behaviour, the discovery could lead to a decrease in carbon equivalent emissions in livestock farming, as well as higher life expectancy for animals.

Annie Williams, business development manager at the Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock, said:  “MI: RNA is a great team of experts in their area of speciality and can 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.”

Founded in 2019, MI:RNA is a pioneer in using microRNA -molecules that help cells to create protein-ASSAY technology. These biomarkers manage the immune system, regulating disease progression. 

Receiving a £500k fund from Innovative UK in 2021, the Edinburgh-based business also looks to market the technology worldwide.

“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 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,” Hanks said.

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