A new divisional patent issued to researchers at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine could help cattle producers by providing a non-antibiotic treatment option for beef cattle liver infections.

The latest work — “Composition & Methods for Detecting, Treating & Protecting Against Fusobacterium Infection,” by the university’s T.G. Nagaraja and M.M. Chengappa and former College of Veterinary Medicine researchers Sanjeev Narayanan and Amit Kumar — uses vaccine-based technology that circumvents antibiotic use when treating cattle and sheep for liver abscesses caused by Fusobacterium, according to the announcement. The liver infections are a significant economic concern to the feedlot industry.

The researchers’ work improves a previous patent they earned for their novel approach to preventing fusobacterial infections, said Nagaraja, university distinguished professor of microbiology in the diagnostic medicine and pathobiology department of the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“We have identified a protein and learned the mechanisms of how the protein attaches to cells, so we created compositions and methods to use the protein to prevent the attachment of Fusobacterium to the cells in the rumen — the first compartment of a cow stomach — and liver,” Nagaraja said. “If bacteria do not attach to cells, they are highly unlikely to cause infection.”

Chengappa, also a university distinguished professor of microbiology in the diagnostic medicine and pathobiology department, said the original patent covers the use of the researchers’ invention within expression systems, adjuvants, injectable solutions, oral compounds and vaccines.

“The new patent broadens the scope of how the invention can be utilized,” Chengappa said.

Kansas State noted that a recent study by West Texas A&M University for a major animal health company found that liver abscesses cost the beef industry $56 million annually. Options for treating cattle with such infections and other diseases have been affected by new regulations on antibiotic use in livestock called the Veterinary Feed Directive, which the Food & Drug Administration enacted in January 2017.

“Alternative methods to antibiotics for prevention, control and treatment of disease in animals are of great value as we move into a time of increased focus on antibiotic stewardship,” said Mike Apley, the Frick professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University. “This focus is apparent in regulatory, legislative and consumer attention given to antibiotic use in food animals. Effective vaccines for common diseases are especially valuable in our prevention and control protocols.”

While the timing of the newly patented methods is convenient for producers, the research evolved over a much longer period of time.

“Understanding the pathogenesis and factors contributing to the liver abscessation in feedlot cattle was a novel scientific field discovery 30 years ago,” said Kelly Lechtenberg, a former doctoral student under Nagaraja who currently leads Midwest Veterinary Services in Oakland, Neb., and the Veterinary & Biomedical Research Center in Manhattan, Kan.

“The work of Drs. Nagaraja and Chengappa is instrumental in understanding the liver abscess disease process, identifying optimal points of intervention and providing the insight necessary to develop effective vaccines,” Lechtenberg said.

The new patent is effective for 20 years and is administered through the Kansas State University Research Foundation.