World experts meet on FMD molecular diagnostics

Foot and mouth disease (FMD) continues to be a chronic problem in many Member States as well as a major threat of devastation to many developed countries. The early detection of the disease and subsequent monitoring of spread and impact of control measures is vital. Modern methods involving nuclear and nuclear related technologies are increasingly proving superior to conventional methods for some situations. Since 1995, the IAEA has dealt with the sustainable transfer of the standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR technology to developing countries, by supplying the vital components of expertise, equipment and training through coordinated research project (CRP) and technical co-operation (TC) programmes.

In December 2005, the IAEA organised a meeting of experts from the World's leading laboratories on FMD research from USA, UK, Europe, South America and Australia. The experts examined newer molecular methods for FMD diagnosis involving PCR technologies and their uses by Member States. The technologies provide very sensitive tools through amplifying very low amounts of nucleic acid to allow measurement (quantification) or characterisation (qualification) of disease agents or evidence of disease agent activity. In particular the experts showed the benefit of the high capacity systems using a method known as Real Time PCR. Sufficient data now exists to justify the acceptance of PCR methods into more routine use in laboratories.

Real time PCR method used in a high-throughput routine analysis However, the experts also recognised that appropriate technologies for developing countries (which include many Member States) must be the first consideration. The experts outlined the diagnostic needs for various Member States according to their developmental situation. For most Member States a combination of conventional techniques (including the conventional PCR) is most suitable. A major role of the IAEA will be to assess which technologies best suit individual Member States to avoid technology for technologies sake.

As a result of this expert meeting, a handbook will be produced that will focus on detailing and assessing the appropriateness of methods for use in FMD control programmes.