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Of Mice Not Men: Llamas and flu prevention; TB treatment in a spray

This is a recurring column on early-stage research in animals or other laboratory models that has not entered the clinic yet but could have implications for future research and development of human medicines.

Can llamas prevent the flu?

Scientists are using antibodies made by llamas in the latest quest to find a treatment to prevent the flu.

Since the discovery about 25 years ago that antibodies made by llamas and their camel cousins are much smaller than human antibodies, scientists have been researching their potential application in medicines. Now, an international team of researchers funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has been experimenting with a "gene mist" given to mice in a bid to fend off the flu.

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Can llamas help prevent flu?
Source: Associated Press

After giving llamas a traditional flu shot, four distinct antibody types produced were identified that protect against a wide range of flu viruses. Using bioengineering techniques, these antibodies were strung together and the four-in-one antibody was subsequently infused into the bloodstream of mice. The researchers found that it completely protected the rodents against many influenza viruses that otherwise would have been deadly.

Using a different approach, the scientists then bioengineered a gene with the four-in-one antibody, inserted it into a harmless virus, and sprayed it as a mist into the noses of mice. The following week, the mice were sprayed with various potentially lethal influenza viruses — but they were protected.

The study, published in the journal Science, was carried out by scientists from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, along with Joost Kolkman of Janssen Infectious Diseases in Belgium and Ian Wilson of the Scripps Research Institute in California.

A similar gene mist approach might provide humans with broad protection against multiple strains of the flu, especially those with compromised immune systems. However, the researchers conceded that such protection would gradually wear off as the cells lining the nasal passage turn over, indicating that an annual flu shot might still be advisable.

Experimental Alzheimer's disease drug shows promise in mice

An experimental drug for Alzheimer's has been identified by researchers at Yale University which can block a crucial step in the disease's progress and improve nerve cell connections and memory function in mice, according to a study published in the journal Cell Reports.

"Stopping or slowing processes that drive damage in Alzheimer's disease is a key area of focus for researchers, and this study identifies a new experimental drug that can do this in mice," said David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer's Research UK. "This approach blocks the interaction between amyloid and another Alzheimer's protein, preventing a key early step in the destructive cascade in the disease."

Reynolds added that more experiments will be needed to establish the medicine's safety before it can be investigated in patients with Alzheimer's.

There have been no new drugs for dementia in over 15 years, and promising early findings like this serve as a positive reminder that research is making progress toward breakthroughs that will change lives, Reynolds added.

Possible new treatment for TB

A new inhalable treatment for tuberculosis, which works by reducing bacteria in the lungs while also helping a patient's immune system fight the disease, has been discovered by researchers experimenting on mice at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

The pathogen that causes TB spreads through people breathing infected droplets into their lungs, where the disease can remain dormant or spread further. The research, led by Dr. Gemma O'Connor and Professor Sally-Ann Cryan and published in European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics, makes use of a derivative of vitamin A that previous studies have shown is an effective treatment for tuberculosis.

There is currently only one vaccine for tuberculosis, which was developed in 1921 and is unreliable in preventing the most common form of the disease.

"This new treatment could be used alongside antibiotics to treat drug-resistant TB and also possibly reduce the rate of antibiotic resistance resulting from conventional antibiotic treatments," said Cryan, who is also associate professor of pharmaceutics at the Royal College of Surgeons School of Pharmacy.