Email received from Dr Roger Breeze Sept 27 2006 in response to the Pirbright research showing that so many so-called Infected Premises were not, after all, infected.
My first thought was that if Dr. Ferris and his Pirbright team had bought the ARS/Tetracore real time PCR test reagents for Foot and mouth disease from Tetracore in 2001 and learned how to use them, he could have completed his research much more quickly and published this paper in 2002, thereby saving the British taxpayers a tidy sum and giving his team four years head start on solving a real foot and mouth problem.
My second thought was "So what?" There is nothing in the news reports or paper to indicate that DEFRA still has any idea how to use real time PCR or other rapid tests to shut down an outbreak of a foreign animal or poultry disease. The paper hints that Pirbright is being automated as the diagnostic center instead of deploying a nationwide distributed lab system. My comments in the letter of January 2006 are still valid.
But at least there is humor! The very same test reagents and Cepheid device that Dr. Ferris manages to smear by implication from 2001 are those that have since been deployed across the US animal disease laboratory network by USDA and the Department of Homeland Security after millions of dollars spent on validation!
The news reports most reminded me of a Christmas Day years ago when my neighbor's three sons appeared outside my window on a tricycle, a pedal go-kart and a bicycle, all just unwrapped from Father Christmas. At that very moment, a door opened across the street and the son of another neighbor burst out, brandishing his six gun and wearing his cowboy outfit. But Roy Rogers was history - cowboys were last year's craze. This was the year of mobility and his three friends rode off together, leaving him forlorn and sobbing on his doorstep. You can't play Cowboys and Indians on your own, at least if you are sane. I don't think we ever saw the cowboy gear again, his mother probably quietly put it away under the stairs and went to buy him a bike as soon as the shops opened.
Pirbright needs a mother who can put yesterday's things away under the stairs, even if she cannot keep up with what's hot in the world of diagnostics.
The US offered Great Britain a state of the art Foot and mouth PCR test in 2001 and the British government chose not to use it. The government made a mistake. If Dr. Ferris had done this study in 2001 with the US test kit he would have come to the same conclusions - the difference being that the wound would still have been very raw for the owners of those millions of animals killed unnecessarily.
The more studies are done, the bigger the mistake will be seen to be.
Everyone around the world knows this. But almost everyone involved in that decision in Great Britain has retired or died - soon this will include the Prime Minister. So can we stop pretending that the decision not to accept the US offer was based on a shrewd scientific assessment of the device and the data and not on political embarrassment at being caught unprepared for the greatest debacle in the history of British veterinary medicine?
Can we have a moratorium on revising history and get on with what's important? In the real world, people are developing multiplex PCR tests that differentiate over 20 different viral and bacterial causes of pneumonia in a single test procedure ( so we can test for rare diseases at the same time as common ones at no additional cost in money or time), they are evaluating devices that simultaneously detect all microbial life, known and unknown, in a sample, and they are using microarrays that detect all human and animal viruses plus some 200 bacterial, fungal and parasitic pathogens in a single test procedure. These are just three of the hundreds of novel approaches to pathogen detection that are being studied in the US and elsewhere. I might draw attention to a microarray that not only detects foot and mouth virus but also determines some 1000 bases of the genome of the virus in the sample - thereby solving one of the issues Dr. Ferris identifies as a problem, namely the need to monitor the PCR test genome target for variation during the course of an outbreak. So you don't need to wait five years to find out how good your PCR test is, you can monitor this in close to real time as the outbreak proceeds. This can be done now - it does not need to be rediscovered in 2011. Given the pressing need for application of new technologies to remove the world's most dangerous livestock diseases, and the very limited number of facilities and scientists available to address them, it is a sad day when Pirbright's contribution is lamely to revise the history of the past rather than to focus on the needs of the future. ARS gave USDA the real time PCR for foot and mouth at Christmas 2000: I don't think Great Britain wants to unwrap the same present under the tree in 2006. How about something original and important?
Those of my generation who grew up in Britain will remember the years before the mid-1960s, when the BBC had a monopoly of radio broadcasting on three channels and there were no private radio stations. There was also a job preservation deal with musicians and vocalists whereby broadcast of recorded music was minimized in favor of live music from the studio. So you could rarely listen to a record of Elvis Presley actually singing his hits, you most often heard some BBC musicians and house singer giving their rendition. Teenagers had to wait until nightfall to pick up Radio Luxembourg broadcasting the real American records from Europe. There is thus a long precedent for British government monopolies presenting their version of someone else's greatest hits - I well remember Allan Breeze (no relation) making a valiant, even heroic, stab at "It's Now or Never" on the Billy Cotton Band show over 40 years ago. But there is nothing like the real thing.
Pirbright and DEFRA don't have to worry about whether or not some company will make Dr. Ferris's FMD PCR test. They can buy a test that is the state of the art from Tetracore today and as the foot and mouth virus evolves in the world and knowledge advances, they can be confident it will still be the state of the art tomorrow. The world did not end when the cozy BBC monopoly was swept away, along with its job preservation and roster of Elvis wannabees. In fact, there was a resurgence of British radio and artistes. The faster Pirbright gets back to making its own music the better for everyone.
Best Wshes and Regards, Roger
Archive July and August 2005
Archive Jan 2005 - July 2005
Archive Oct 2004 - Dec 2004
Archive August 2004 -October
OTHER WARMWELL ARCHIVES(opens in new window)