Can Cows Heal Us?

A new study has found that some cow antibodies may help us in creating new medicines.

According to, by rearranging and mutating certain genes,  "an animal’s immune system can generate a vast and diverse population of antibodies—which collectively can bind to just about any of the body’s foreign invaders."

Antibodies, part of our immune system, protect us from infection.  Researchers have found that cows make unusually long antibodies, and longer antibodies, for some reason, seem to cure some infections.  A study done on patients with HIV discovered that these longer antibodies allowed them "to grab a crucial structure on the virus and thereby neutralize the infectivity of most HIV strains," quotes Vaughn V. Smider, assistant professor of cell and molecular biology at TSRI and principal investigator for the study.

If I can get put it into English -- and I may not have it exactly right, I must say right up front -- but I believe what's been discovered is that humans may benefit if their antibodies can be made more like cows'. It has something to do with CDRs, complementarity-determining regions,
which govern an antibody's specificity for a target, and "actually do the grabbing."

"We started thinking about how we could make these long CDR3s that are so rare in humans, and we knew from the literature that cows make even longer ones all the time,” Snider told

Snider pulled a team together "which performed a detailed structural and sequence analysis of these unusually long CDR H3 cow antibodies, to gain insight into how they are made naturally," with the hopes of finding out how such structures might be engineered in the laboratory.

But how did the cow immune system evolve to make such antibodies?  Smider told that it has to do with their unusual, four-chambered, grass-fermenting stomach, that collects an extensive amount of bacteria and other microorganisms. “If some of these escape from the stomach and get into the bloodstream or other tissues, there could be some pretty serious infections; so that’s our starting hypothesis for why cows have this unusual immune defense,” he said in the article.


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