May 15, 2020 at 4:06 PM EDT – Updated May 16 at 8:33 PM
(CNN) – Cattle are being used to develop a possible antibody treatment for coronavirus.
“We’ve certainly given the cow a part of the human immune system,” said Dr. Eddie Sullivan, SAb Biotherapeutics
SAb, located in South Dakota, is hoping their blood could help make a drug to fight COVID-19.
Using genetic engineering, scientists create a cow embryo that contains parts of human chromosomes. That embryo becomes a calf and then a cow.
Then, a non-infectious part of the novel coronavirus is injected into that cow. Because of the genetic engineering, the cow produces human antibodies to the virus.
Those antibodies are collected from the cow, and once purified, become a drug that might work to combat the coronavirus in humans.
The cows are plasma donors, like humans who’ve recovered from coronavirus who donate their blood.
But the cows have a big advantage: they’re big. They have a lot of blood to give.
“That’s one of the reasons that we chose cattle, because obviously they are a large animal,” Sullivan said.
Plus, they can donate plasma three times a month. Humans can only donate once a month.
Another company, Regeneron, is trying a similar approach with mice who are engineered to have portions of a human immune system. They call them “magic mice.”
They extract and clone the best antibodies.
“We literally genetically humanized mice,” said Dr. George Yancopoulos, Regeneron. “We put in the genes for the human immune system into mice so that these mice have pretty much exactly a human immune system.”
Both companies plan to start human clinical trials early this summer. There’s no guarantee it will work, but these part-human animals could play a role in saving lives during the pandemic.
“If all goes well, we expect that we will have the drug on the market by early next year,” Sullivan said.
Copyright 2020 CNN. KOCO and KOMO contributed to the report. All rights reserved.