Could camel antibodies protect humans from MERS?

March 30, 2015, American Society for Microbiology
MERS coronavirus particles (green) on camel epithelial cells. Credit: NIAID in collaboration with Colorado State University.

Antibodies from dromedary camels protected uninfected mice from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and helped infected mice expunge the disease, according to a study published online March 18th in the Journal of Virology, a journal published by the American Society for Microbiology. MERS, which emerged in humans last year in the Saudi Arabian peninsula, causes severe respiratory disease, with a high mortality rate of 35-40 percent. No specific therapy is currently available.

"Our results suggest that these antibodies might prove therapeutic for MERS patients, and might protect uninfected household members and healthcare workers against MERS," says corresponding author Stanley Perlman, MD, PhD, a professor in the Departments of Microbiology and Pediatrics, the University of Iowa, Iowa City.

Passive immunization, a procedure where you inject a former patient's antibodies into a new patient to fight the disease, has been used in the past, including last year in a small number of cases of Ebola, but in the case of MERS, few former patients are available to donate antibodies. Additionally, their antibody titers are often too low, and many former patients are not healthy enough to donate.

Suspecting that humans and dromedaries were likely infected by the same virus, first author Malik Peiris, D. Phil., Professor of Medical Science, School of Public Health, the University of Hong Kong, SAR, China suggested that camel sera might be used to combat MERS. The vast majority of dromedaries on the Arabian peninsula are infected, and many have high antibody titers. The investigators decided to test dromedary antibodies against virus taken from humans. They tested the antibodies in mouse models infected with the latter virus.

The study, a successful proof of concept study, showed that prophylactic or therapeutic treatment with high titer MERS immune camel sera diminished weight loss and pathological changes in lung tissues, and cleared the infections in the mice.

Along with their availability in the Arabian peninsula, the site of all initial human infections thus far, camel sera have several additional advantages. The part of an antibody that binds to the antigen is the variable region, said Perlman. The camel antibody's variable region—which is the part of the antibody that recognizes antigen—is longer than most species' antibody variable regions, so camel antibodies can detect structures missed by conventional (human) antibodies.

"The antibody will work in humans if delivered in sufficient quantities," said Perlman. "The main hurdle is purifying the antibody and making sure that it is safe to administer to humans."

Camel antibodies would also be relatively easy to use as the initial source to develop a recombinant, humanized antibody, said Perlman, explaining that while human antibodies have four chains, antibodies have a single chain. Recombinant, humanized could then be grown in bacteria.

Explore further: Scientists find mystery virus in camels in Qatar

More information: Passive Immunotherapy With Dromedary Immune Serum In An Experimental Animal Model For MERS Coronavirus Infection. J. Virol. JVI.00446-15; Accepted manuscript posted online 18 March 2015, DOI: 10.1128/JVI.00446-15

Related Stories

Scientists find mystery virus in camels in Qatar

November 29, 2013
Health officials say they have found a mysterious respiratory virus in a herd of camels in Qatar linked to two human cases of the disease.

MERS coronavirus can be transmitted from camel to man

May 2, 2014
The MERS coronavirus is currently spreading very rapidly in the Arab world. An infection could affect human beings as well as camels, and has already cost more than 100 human lives. Scientists at the University of Veterinary ...

Scientists identify antibodies against MERS

April 28, 2014
Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have identified natural human antibodies against the virus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a step toward developing treatments for the newly emerging and often-fatal ...

Signs of MERS coronavirus found in dromedary camels

August 8, 2013
Researchers searching for signs of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in livestock animals have found antibodies specific to the new virus in dromedary camels. The research, published in The Lancet Infectious ...

Qatar reports three camel MERS infections

November 28, 2013
Qatar said on Thursday that three camels have been found infected with the MERS coronavirus, in the first case of animals contracting the SARS-like virus in the Gulf state.

Immune 'traffic jam' from viral infection interferes with therapeutic antibodies

February 12, 2015
Several drugs now used to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases are actually repurposed tools derived from the immune system. One of the ways these "therapeutic antibodies" work is to grab onto malignant or inflammatory cells ...

Recommended for you

Scientists a step closer to predicting epidemics

July 13, 2018
Ecologists at the University of Georgia have taken an important step in their efforts to develop an early warning system for infectious disease outbreaks.

Researchers identify target for novel malaria vaccine

July 13, 2018
A Yale-led team of researchers have created a vaccine that protects against malaria infection in mouse models, paving the way for the development of a human vaccine that works by targeting the specific protein that parasites ...

Higher income and being married protect older people from broken bones

July 13, 2018
Research led by scientists from the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU) at the University of Southampton has shown that a higher income and being married reduces the risk of experiencing a broken ...

Gammaherpesviruses linked to tumors in macaques with simian immunodeficiency virus

July 12, 2018
Viruses known as gammaherpesviruses may raise the risk of cancer in macaques infected with Simian Immunodeficiency Virus or Simian Human Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV/SHIV), according to new research published by Vickie Marshall ...

Scientists find protein exploited by virus ravaging West Africa

July 12, 2018
A research team from several institutions being led by the University of California San Diego has deciphered a key component behind a rising epidemic of pathogens that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently added to ...

How a Mediterranean diet could reduce osteoporosis

July 11, 2018
Eating a Mediterranean-type diet could reduce bone loss in people with osteoporosis—according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.