About 8 Months Ago, a mysterious online customer purchased some lancets from Hawksley. A week later, the same man returned for more lancets, this time a different type. After he had exhausted our entire lancet range and induced the pondering of our Account Managers, we received a call from him.

His name was Alastair Hayton, from a veterinary practice called Synergy Farm Health. He told us about his plans to develop a new test for cattle, that a farmer could use to rapidly assess the immunity of their herd from key diseases like Tuberculosis, Brucellosis, or Foot & Mouth. In order to achieve this goal, he had employed the support of Joe Dunbar, of Soma Bioscience, the well-respected Cattle Management Group, Buitelaar, and now needed Hawksley’s design team to help.

How it Works

The key mechanism is a Lateral Flow Test (LFT) that you would be very familiar with if you have not been hibernating for the last two years of Covid. Soma Bioscience had engineered an assay that would detect antibodies that would react to key bovine illnesses. I won’t pretend to know how Joe and his exceptionally talented team achieved this, but I can explain the mechanics of how it worked:

  1. A blood sample was collected from the cow, bull, or calf. It needed to be collected in a capillary tube that was a regular size – this ensured that every sample contained the same quantity of blood as the next.
  2. The blood sample was placed into the assay engineered by Soma and mixed for a couple of minutes.
  3. Droplets were placed onto a lateral flow test.
  4. After the liquid had been absorbed by the litmus paper, the user will use Soma Biosciences purpose made reader, like in the image below, to test for the quantity of antibodies per million cells.
  5. Alastair has spent countless hours developing an understanding of the normal ranges of antibodies in bovine contexts, which enables the results of the test to identify averages, outliers and patterns within each farmer’s herd.

The end result of this process is invaluable to cattle farmers and the cattle themselves. Farmers can act on low resilience in their herds by getting them vaccinated; at the market farmers could make better informed decisions when selecting new calves or bulls to introduce into the herd; farmers can even isolate outbreaks when members of the herd show the red flags of disease.

The Lancet

This is where Hawksley comes into the picture. Alastair was finding it challenging to draw a consistent amount of blood from his cattle. This was a significant issue, as the LFT was aimed for use by farmers who would often have little clinical experience using lancets. Synergy had been trying Hawksley’s range of lancets as an attempt to select the optimal blade for drawing enough, although not an excessive, amount of blood.

After speaking with Alastair a number of times, we actively searched for any existing products in the world that might suit the job. With 3 months of searching and sampling, nothing seemed to fit the bill and the solution was to build a bespoke lancet ourselves. Arthur Gale, our consultant product designer and Tejay Miles, another talented young mechanical engineer helped to design a number of prototypes in iterative depths and widths of blade, for testing. 

Once the correct iteration was selected, we integrated the ergonomic features essential for making end-users feel comfortable conducting the test themselves. By adding a wrist lanyard and safety-lid, users could easily sheathe the blade and reuse it (after re-sterilising it!) whenever they needed it.

Next Steps

Now that the design has been agreed on and the assays have been engineered, the test is out for trialling around Europe; where comments, compliments, and complaints are being recorded for the final design phase. After this, the hard work of engaging farmers and Beef groups, but we hope that in the future that Hawksley will have become a hoofnote in Bovine history. 

It may be centuries before cows have the cognitive abilities to process the significance of this scientific leap for their kind, but it won’t be long before their physical health improves across the world – thanks to Synergy & Soma Bioscience.

September 12, 2022 — Harvey Barrett

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