A VACCINE that would end the scourge of E coli poisoning is being developed by Scottish scientists and could be available for trials within two years.
The £500,000 project, funded by the government and a private vaccines company, is aimed at preventing cattle and sheep from shedding the E coli 0157 bacteria, which can go on to contaminate food products and cause serious illness and death.
Details of the vaccine research programme emerged as health officials continued yesterday to investigate the Paisley E coli 0157 outbreak, which has killed one elderly woman and infected at least eight other consumers. The source is believed to be meat sold by two Morrisons supermarkets.
Scotland has the highest rate of E coli 0157 infection in the UK with around 200 cases every year.
The vaccine is being developed by scientists from Edinburgh University, the Moredun Research Institute, the Scottish Agricultural College and Novartis Animal Vaccines. The three-year research programme is expected to end next year, although it could be more than five years before a product is put on the market.
Professor David Smith, who heads the research at the Moredun institute, near Penicuik, Midlothian, said he could not discuss the progress of the programme due to "commercial confidentiality". But he added: "The aim is to develop and test potential vaccination strategies to reduce colonisation [of E coli 0157] in cattle and therefore the onward risk to human health.
"Work is progressing and there are some promising indications."
The development of the vaccine follows a breakthrough in 2003 when the same team of microbiologists discovered that the majority of the bacteria colonise just the last few centimetres of the gastrointestinal tract of cattle.
Labour MSP Andy Kerr, the former Scottish health minister, said: "Scotland appears to get more than its fair share of E coli 0157 poisoning so if a risk assessment concludes that a vaccine would help to reduce that then I would support it. This seems to be an innovation worth pursuing."
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