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Can Alpacas Come to the Rescue?
Professor Charles Shoemaker is helping investigate if alpaca antibodies can produce better diagnostic agents and antiviral therapeutics for COVID-19.
May 15, 2020
Professor Charles Shoemaker works with Associate Professor Daniela Bedenice, a specialist in large-animal medicine and emergency and critical care who assists with animal procedures and monitors the alpacas' health throughout the studies. (Photo by Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Like most of us, the faculty and researchers at Cummings School have watched the COVID-19 pandemic develop and spread with a mixture of concern and curiosity.

While none of them were surprised to see a new virus spill over from animals to people, they still have lots of questions about how it’s infecting and affecting people worldwide—and what it will take to bring the U.S. and international outbreak under control.

We asked these experts to share what questions about COVID-19 they’d most like to be able to answer in the months ahead.

Professor Charles Shoemaker’s research has focused on the development of immunotherapies for the prevention and treatment of microbial diseases, particularly toxin-mediated diseases, as well as helminth parasite infections. He is now collaborating with researchers in the biopharma industry to develop antibody-based therapeutics for COVID-19.

“In my opinion, the most pressing question we need to answer now is how do people typically acquire COVID-19 infections?” said Shoemaker. “For this, we need real science data rather than anecdotes, so we can confidently provide accurate advice as to the best public health practices.

My own lab research is focused more long term to develop antibody reagents for highly sensitive and specific tests and for antiviral therapeutics to prevent and/or treat COVID-19 infections. Our research team produces reagents from immunized alpacas, which produce an unusual antibody type that is highly amenable for biotechnological solutions to these challenges. These alpaca antibodies are very stable to harsh treatments and long-term storage, making them ideal for diagnostic test kits. They are also simple and versatile, so they can be engineered in creative ways to produce better diagnostic agents and antiviral therapeutics.

We are actively working to answer the question as to whether these novel alpaca-derived antibody reagents will prove more effective for COVID-19 applications than the conventional antibody strategies employed by most labs and companies.”

Read more responses in our “Answers Needed About COVID-19” series from Janetrix Hellen Amuguni, Amanda Martinot, Felicia Nutter, Marieke Rosenbaum, Jonathan Runstadler, Abhineet Sheoran, Sam Telford, Saul Tzipori, and Chris Whittier.