Diagnostic tool could help spot heart trouble in fish

Researchers in Scotland are working on a project which, they hope, will mean that a range of heart conditions in fish could be detected through a simple blood test.

The diagnostic tool, based on similar breakthroughs that are already in use to monitor the health of terrestrial animals such as cattle, is aimed at early detection of cardiomyopathies such as heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI), cardiomyopathy syndrome (CMS), and pancreas disease (PD) in salmon. The test will identify tell-tale blood biomarkers that indicate a risk of disease.

The project is a collaboration between the University of Glasgow, University of Edinburgh, Cooke Aquaculture Scotland, Life Diagnostics Ltd, Moredun Research Institute, Benchmark Genetics Ltd, and the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC).

The researchers will collect and analyse salmon blood to track changes in relevant biomarkers from fish at a variety of Cooke Aquaculture Scotland sites and trials of Benchmark Atlantic salmon strains over the next few months. The University of Edinburgh will assess the samples for cardiac disease, determine the health status of the fish, and provide validation data of the diagnostic tests.

The tests – which should return results in as little as 45 minutes – could help producers to understand how fish are affected and inform best stock management choices, as well as identifying fish with greater physiological resistance to cardiomyopathies.

Philippe Sourd, senior veterinarian at Cooke Aquaculture Scotland, said: “This project could equip us with the tools to conduct meaningful population health screening at pen or farm level, which will further increase our understanding of salmon cardiac health patterns.

“Obtaining real-time data, along with reliable and accurate information on the condition of our salmon stock, is a priority as it enables effective decision-making processes and early intervention to promote the health, wellbeing, and performance of our livestock. By working with academic partners to prove the diagnostic tools, we believe this technology can benefit salmon farmers – and potentially fish farmers in general – as an essential tool to drive fish health and wellbeing strategies.”

A previous SAIC-funded initiative with Benchmark Genetics Ltd, Cooke Aquaculture Scotland, Life Diagnostics and Moredun Research Institute, focused on identifying biomarkers in fish blood that could be used to detect cardiomyopathies induced by the piscine myocarditis virus (PMCV) before fish developed clinical symptoms.

This study brings in Glasgow University’s experience of using similar biomarkers in terrestrial animals to detect and mitigate against disease.

Professor David Eckersall, an expert in veterinary biochemistry at the University of Glasgow, said: “A big part of this project will be translating what we know about detecting and diagnosing cardiomyopathies in other animals to fish. Any form of disease mitigation requires knowledge of population and this project is aiming to produce a tool that can give veterinarians and farmers the data they need to make the best possible choices for their fish.”