Feed additives boost immune response against coccidiosis

Research at the University of Illinois has added a new tool to the fight against the parasite-borne intestinal disease, coccidiosis.

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David Tadevosian | shutterstock.com
David Tadevosian | shutterstock.com

Research at the University of Illinois has added a new tool to the fight against the parasite-borne intestinal disease, coccidiosis.

There are a variety of treatment methods, including vaccine and biosecurity methods, in place to control coccidiosis, however the disease remains widespread. The disease is caused by protozoa in the Eimeria family. Spread of the disease occurs quickly, typically in less than a week. Coccidiosis primarily affects young chickens and can affect egg production.

“This is a parasite that’s been around for a very long time. In order to have this mass scale that we do, for what consumers are demanding, we are still raising them on litter in a way that puts them in direct contact with the Eimeria itself. We must have strategies to be able to reduce that,” said Ryan Dilger, associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois and principal investigator on the research.

“Nutrition is always serving as the base of what we do in my laboratory. Here, we were looking for a nutritional technology that could help support the growth and productivity of birds.”

Nutritional support

Once infected, the chicken immune response activates a cytokine cascade against the parasite. This response is typically modulated by an anti-inflammatory mediator known as interleukin-10 (IL-10). However, Eimeria tricks the immune system into overproducing IL-10, stopping the immune system response against the parasite.

The research team developed a nutritional strategy that disrupts this cycle.

“I like to think of it like when we get the flu. We have a vaccine that can prevent it from happening in the first place. There are vaccines for Eimeria that are being developed and used. This is not a vaccine. This is more like Tamiflu, where once you get it you already have the disease, what it’s trying to do is help you get over the flu more quickly,” Dilger explained.

“In this particular case, we’re trying to break the cycle and shorten the duration. We’re also trying to create a higher magnitude of response in a shorter amount of time.”

Infected birds were fed a dietary combination made up of a dried egg product with IL-10 antibody activity and an antioxidant known as methylsulfonylmethane (MSM). The dried egg product activates an acute pro-inflammatory response against the parasite, while the MSM protects against any oxidative stress that may occur.

Chickens that received the treatment gained weight quicker 7-14 days post-infection and displayed a higher total antioxidant capacity three to four weeks after infection.

“There’s not one technology that is going to prevent this,” Dilger said. “In this case, we have the immune response and the oxidative stress that’s occurring. It’s trying to understand in combinations of products that one alone may not be enough, we may need to use multiple products in this way either to combat the Eimeria, support the microbiota or to influence the immune system.”

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