Milk Guard is a rugged, self-contained prototype testing kit designed for vets to conduct vital microbiology tests for Indian dairy farmers without needing a lab.

What technology does it use?

The kit uses simple, low-cost microcapillary technology (‘tiny test tubes’) to simplify testing and improve AntiMicrobial Resistant (AMR) surveillance, leading to more effective use of antibiotics. This is supported by mobile and digital technology that will enable us to automate and scale up diagnostic tests as we develop the service.

Who is it for?

Milk Guard is primarily designed for use by vets (and paravets where appropriate) to help dairy farmers in India. It will also benefit other key groups from local communities, the biotech industry and policy.

Why it’s needed

Mastitis is a significant problem in India’s dairy herds, affecting milk production and quality, farm economics and animal welfare (Smith, et al., 2001). In India, the disease is estimated to account for nearly 70% of the losses incurred during milk production, costing the country over Rs. 7165 crores (circa £765,000,000) annually (Bansal and Gupta, 2009).

It also threatens food safety and the farming communities’ own health and wellbeing.

In India these issues are also important:

  • Cases of mastitis in dairy farms are increasing
  • No quick tests are available to profile mastitis pathogens before selection of antibiotic for treatment, leading to overuse of antibiotics
  • Cases of AMR mastitis pathogens are increasing
  • There is only one veterinary office per 10,000 people
  • Dairy farms in rural India are typically small and family run, with 1–5 cows
  • People live in close proximity to infected animals
  • People are drinking unpasteurised milk direct from cattle

Collaboration

Milk Guard has been developed collaboratively by a team of researchers and designers who have been working with vets and specialists in West Bengal to understand their underlying needs and the challenges of controlling mastitis infections in cattle farms through a creative and people-centred research process.

The team leaders, Dr Al Edwards and Anne Odling Smee, met at Reading University where Anne was presenting design work associated with an Antimicrobial Resistance programme that her company, Design Science was working on in Rwanda called Beating Bag Bugs. Dr Edwards had developed a novel technology for testing antimicrobial resistance in veterinary medicine and had set up a start up company, CFT, to support its development and recognised the opportunity to use this technology to provide a mobile AMR testing kit for resource-poor settings where traditional laboratory services were expensive and slow.

Funding for the initial proof of concept development was provided by Innovate UK and the team set out a programme of discovery and development that would take place in West Bengal during 2020.

Co-designed development

As the scale of the Covid-19 Pandemic grew, we adjusted our working methods to make use of digital tools including Microsoft Teams and Whatsapp messaging so that we could continue to work collaboratively and also share our work and listen to the needs of the West Bengal Vets. Dr Partha Ray led our relationship with the West Bengal veterinary community and has been instrumental in helping us to understand the issues that affect their work.

“If this kit works properly it will bring a revolution in the dairy industry globally” Vet from West Bengal who took part in our initial user research

Dr Edwards has been supported by his research team at Reading University, including Dr Sarah Needs, who’s postdoctoral research focuses on miniaturising antimicrobial resistance testing for use in healthcare settings.

Long term goal

The only way to cure mastitis is to treat cattle with the right antibiotics within a few hours after diagnosis, but antimicrobial resistance is a growing problem across our farms:

  • Many mastitis pathogens are resistant to common antibiotics
  • Existing antibiotic sensitivity tests are too slow to guide better antibiotic selection

This is leading to poor treatment of Mastitis and contributing to overuse of the wrong antibiotics.

Our long-term goal is to tackle the challenge of rising AMR levels that leads to reduced milk production through hard-to-treat mastitis in dairy cattle (cutting family income), and untreatable human infections.