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Researchers Using Cattle To Fight Disease

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They’re black and white; they live in a barn, and their being used for research. It might sound a little strange, but for researchers at Sanford Health, cattle could be the new way to fight disease.

For Dr. Eddie Sullivan and his team of researchers, scientists, and veterinarians it has been 14 years full of hard work. The research started at the University Massachusetts and was then brought to Sioux Falls, and soon it could be helping people worldwide.

They might moo, drool, and look like normal cows, but underneath their hide is an immune system that's not so typical.

"We genetically engineer these cows so they produce the human version of these disease fighting proteins," Sullivan said.

Sullivan is one of several researchers at Sanford Applied Biosciences. He said around 60 cows have modified immune systems that are similar to humans. The purpose: to create disease fighting antibodies.

"We can purify that human protein out of the cow’s blood, they become plasma donors once or twice a month just like a human would, and then we can take those antibodies to help people who are fighting disease," Sullivan explained.

And they’re diseases that range from the flu, to cancer. The cattle are vaccinated and after two weeks their bodies start producing the antibodies. And it's the same thing our bodies do, the only difference is since cattle are much larger, they produce much more.

 "Then we boost the levels, so they can produce very high levels of antibodies over about a two or three month period to the particular disease," Sullivan added.

The plasma is then brought to the Sanford Research Center in Sioux Falls and held in a freezer at 2 degrees below zero.

Giant bags, bottles, and tubes are filled with the protein. Then it's up to the researchers and scientists to get it ready for human use.

"We really have a unique opportunity to provide help to patients really all over the world, from right here in Sioux Falls," Sullivan smiled.

In March, Sullivan will have his first meeting with the Federal Drug Administration, to see what regulations need to be met so clinical trials can begin. The goal is to have trials on going by this time next year.

The cows are injected with only a component of the virus they are used to create antibodies for, therefore the animal does not get sick.

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