NIH-made nanomice could help fight COVID-19 variants, sparing larger lab animals

NIH-made nanomice could help fight COVID-19 variants, sparing larger lab animals

March 10, 2021

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have engineered mice to produce COVID-fighting proteins that could help prevent COVID-19 mortality when vaccines are compromised due to viral mutations, according to findings published prior to peer review by bioRxiv on March 4. The NIH has filed a provisional patent application in connection with this work.

Using mouse models to replicate nanobodies (tiny, antigen-binding proteins) cloned from camels and their relatives, as the researchers did in their study, would make COVID-19 research less dependent on the larger animals, whose upkeep is not practical for many laboratory facilities.

"A key contribution of our study is the creation of nanobody-producing mice," the authors wrote. "We anticipate that this and similar mouse models will help popularize the development of Nbs against infectious diseases or for basic applications. Just as important, the models may ultimately replace the use of camelids in biomedical research, thus protecting llamas and alpacas which are invariably culled in antibody production farms at the conclusion of a given study."

A research team including scientists from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), the National Insitute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the National Cancer Center, and the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research used genetic engineering to create "nanomice" equipped with nanobodies cloned from camels, dromedaries, and alpacas.

The nanobodies produced by the nanomice effectively neutralized laboratory versions of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in its original form and in three variant forms (associated with viral spread in the U.K., South Africa, and New York) that have resulted from genetic mutations.

Because the mouse-produced nanobodies were thermally stable and can be aerosolized with commercially available products, they may provide valuable tools for passive immunotherapy or pulmonary delivery against current and future SARS-CoV-2 variants, the authors wrote.

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