Do the drugs work?

Tuesday 12 February 2002

Biologists in Scotland have launched a study to prove that expensive animal ‘vaccines’ may not only be ineffective, but may cause more harm than good.

The team from the University of St. Andrews is also aiming to develop alternatives, which would set a benchmark for future treatments.

Dr. Valerie Smith and Dr. Chris Hauton, based at the Gatty Marine Laboratory, have just begun a 3- year study concentrating on disease control and immunisation of farmed lobsters.

Because of the increase in fish and shellfish consumption in the UK due to the foot and mouth crisis and BSE, natural populations are being depleted rapidly, making ‘farming’ (aquaculture) and ‘ranching’ attractive alternatives. This is especially the case for lobsters since they are slow growing.

Funded by the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), the £275,000 study could have a potentially huge impact on the international shrimp farming community, especially in China, South East Asia and South America, where it is a particularly important small industry.

By developing more effective alternatives, the impact of the study could not only save lobster and shrimp farmers a considerable amount of money, but may also set a benchmark for standards and procedures for testing future vaccines. It could also bring down the cost of the end product, as expensive ‘vaccinations’ and treatments contribute to the cost of cultured shrimp and lobsters.

Lobsters and shrimp belong to a large group of animals (the invertebrates) which do not have the capability to make antibodies. They cannot be ‘vaccinated for life’ with a single injection as is the case with humans and other farmed livestock. Consequently farmers repeatedly treat their stocks, at some considerable cost, in an attempt to stimulate the animals’ immune systems and limit the occurrence of diseases.

However, Dr Smith and her colleagues believe that this approach is misconceived, and they argue that ‘vaccines’ can be potentially damaging, in some cases doing more harm than good. In a typical case the lobster or shrimps’ immune systems can become over-stimulated, leading to conditions akin to allergic reactions or colds in humans.

“There is a growing feeling amongst shrimp farmers and aquaculture scientists that the use of these immunostimulants or ‘vaccines’ may be ineffective against the majority of diseases encountered world wide and that the repeated use of these products within farms may actually be detrimental to the health of the animals,” said Dr Smith.

Although the group is primarily concentrating on lobsters, the results of their study could apply to other related animals including shrimps, prawns, crabs and scampi.

The BBSRC funding has allowed for the installation of a state-of-the- art instrument in the laboratory at St. Andrews where Dr. Smith and her team will examine lobster immune genes at a molecular level. This instrument will allow the researchers to measure changes in gene expression and determine whether or not the commercial ‘vaccines’ actually work.




Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050103, or email [email protected] Ref: val smith vaccine pr 120202 View the latest University news at


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