Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) is licensed for enhancing milk production in dairy cows in some countries, for instance the United States, but is banned in Europe. Serum biomarker profiling can be an adequate approach to discriminate between treated and untreated groups. In this study a multiplex screening tool of a small set of biomarkers for pinpointing recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) (ab)use was developed and evaluated: insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), IGF binding protein 2 (IGFBP2) and rbST-induced antibodies were selected as rbST dependent markers and combined in one parallel assay format. For this, the color-encoded microspheres were used in a suspension array, with a dedicated flow cytometer. Serum samples obtained from an animal experiment with rbST-treated and untreated dairy cows were measured with the developed triplex immunoassay and biomarker responses on rbST treatment were evaluated. This resulted in characteristic treatment-dependent responses for all three individual biomarkers. Combining these results with the statistical prediction model k-nearest neighbours (kNN), resulted in good discrimination of treated and untreated animals: an overall sensitivity (true positive rate) of 89.1% and an overall specificity (true negative rate) of 97.7% were reached. Therefore, this is the first multiplex method which can be applied with high confidence for screening of unknown herds of cattle pinpointing at rbST (ab)use.
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