Researchers turn to cattle to battle COVID-19

Could cattle provide a strong defense against the novel coronavirus? Researchers are developing antibodies from cattle in South Dakota.

Amanda Radke

June 10, 2020

2 Min Read

COVID-19 may have shut down America and the world for a hot minute, but it appears that our nation is gaining speed in getting back to work and back in business.

For many of us, social distancing was easy on the ranch. But as we look at reopening schools, filling up theaters, restaurants, amusement parks and sports stadiums, it’s possible another spike in infections could happen. Meanwhile, medical researchers are continuing their critical work of developing therapeutic treatments and vaccinations against this novel virus.

As the race continues amongst competing companies to be the first and best option for treatment and prevention against COVID-19, I find it interesting to see that for one company, the best results may come from cattle.

According to an article published in Science Magazine and written by Mitch Leslie, cattle antibodies could be the newest weapon against COVID-19.

Leslie writes, “To manufacture antibodies for treating or preventing diseases, companies typically turn to sources such as cultured cells or tobacco plants. But almost 20 years ago, researchers began to develop the approach now pursued by SAb Biotherapeutics of Sioux Falls, S.D., to produce antibodies on the hoof.

“The company genetically alters dairy cows, so that certain immune cells carry the DNA that allows people to make antibodies. That upgrade enables the animals to manufacture large quantities of human antibodies against a pathogen protein injected into them, such as the ‘spike’ surface protein of the new coronavirus.”

SAb Biotherapeutics has done incredible work in this arena in the last two decades.

You may recall a previous blog post I wrote in 2017 titled, “Bovine antibodies could prevent flu outbreaks.” That post described how this South Dakota company was working to produce antibodies from cattle to lead the fight against Zika, Ebola, cancer, diabetes and influenza.

Since these medical researchers work to utilize animals in a respectful way that also advances human healthcare, it’s a win-win.

However, during this pandemic, animal rights activists have pushed to eliminate the use of animals in medical research like this. While people are dying from a novel disease, they are trying to take away options to provide the best care possible to people around the world.

This presents an interesting storyline for us to share as a beef industry. Animals enrich human lives, and when we carefully and respectfully work with animals in research, medicine, food, retail and other by-products, we enrich the human experience while also valuing that animal.

Yes, I know the extremists won’t like that. But as I preach often to my young children, understanding the circle of life and realizing the divine value of humanity are incredibly important and meaningful life lessons to experience and gain.

Whether it’s on the ranch or in a laboratory, I value and appreciate cattle, and I look forward to seeing what these experts develop from this critical research.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

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