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Coronavirus

UAE scientists injecting ‘immune’ camels with COVID-19 to study virus antibodies

Published: Updated:

A United Arab Emirates scientist is spearheading a study looking at how camels – immune to the COVID-19 virus – could provide vital answers into how to tackle the global pandemic and treat infected patients.

Dr. Ulrich Wernery, a veterinary microbiologist in Dubai and head of the emirate’s Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, and his team are injecting dead samples of the COVID-19 virus into dromedaries to examine the antibodies produced by the desert animals, he told Al Arabiya English.

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While camels were a known host of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) – the COVID-19 predecessor known to cause acute respiratory disease, gastrointestinal problems, kidney failure and death – studies have shown that dromedaries are actually immune to the new coronavirus – COVID-19.

This is because camels do not have the virus receptor – a host cell recognized by the virus as a gateway to entry in the cell – that humans and other animals have which leave them vulnerable to COVID-19, Wernery said.

“MERS-CoV, [camels] can harbor but they don’t get sick,” he explained. “With COVID-19, the virus cannot attach to the camels’ mucosa cells of the respiratory tract as the receptor is absent or dull.”

“This makes it all very interesting. Besides humans, minks and cats – small and big, such as such a tigers and lions – can get COVID-19 and can transmit the virus into other cats and to humans and vice versa. But not camels.”

COVID-19 have been found among some animals. Gorillas in a San Diego Zoo were the first non-human primates to test positive for the coronavirus.

A cat in Surrey, in the United Kingdom, became Britain’s first animal to test positive. A tiger at Bronx Zoo was the first animal in the US to test positive. Other Big Cats have tested positive, including four lions at a Barcelona Zoo. A snow leopard at Kentucky Zoo also tested positive for the virus.

A mutant strain of the virus was also found in a Danish mink, which led to 17 million being culled.

A German Shepard was the first dog in the US confirmed with confirmed COVID-19.

However, scientists and the World Health Organization (WHO) say the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to humans is low.

While the exact source of COVID-19 is unknown, WHO scientists believe it likely came from a bat.

Wernery told Al Arabiya English he hopes his landmark study can provide further answers into COVID-19 – and potentially provide an alternative treatment option.

“We have immunized our camels with a dead COVID-19 virus to produce antibodies and we use this blood to establish better tests for the diagnosis for COVID-19.”

“We hope that maybe one day we can use the blood - the antibodies - from camels to treat humans against COVID-19 infections.”

“This is all in the pipeline.”

To date, vaccines – which work to recognize and fight off the viruses and the bacteria they target - are the only recognized form of treatment by the WHO.

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At least seven different vaccines have been rolled out in countries across the world. At the same time, more than 200 additional vaccine candidates are in development.

More than 150 million people worldwide have tested positive for COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Read more:

As the world battles COVID-19, Middle East wins war on its virus predecessor: MERS

Plastic left by campers in UAE’s deserts is killing camels: Vet researcher

Worldwide COVID-19 cases pass 150 million: AFP tally