When we imagine a treatment or cure for diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, or autism, chances are most of us aren’t thinking about alpacas. But luckily, one group of researchers did think to turn to alpacas, because their work may just yield life-changing knowledge and solutions for us.
The team of researchers, from Vanderbilt University, has been studying a herd of alpacas at Litton Farms in Waverly, Tennessee.
“Alpacas have an exceptionally unique immune system,” says associate professor of pharmacology Brian Wadzinski. “Their antibodies can be used for research, diagnostic and therapeutic purposes and, because of the unique features of these antibodies, we’re able to harvest them. They’re acid-stable, heat-stable, and there’s good evidence they pass the blood-brain barrier.”
These harvested antibodies can help researchers understand the PPP2R5D enzyme and potentially learn how to regulate it. This particular enzyme has been linked to autism, Alzheimer’s disease, certain cancers, and other diseases, making it a particularly important one for researchers to learn more about.
Happily, taking a sample from the alpacas to analyze in the lab is pretty quick and painless, and the findings from these analyses could one day save thousands of lives and improve the quality and treatment plans for countless others.
Want to know something else that’s super cool about these particular alpacas? Their soft fleece is being regularly sheared to make into hats for cancer patients. It’s the perfect material to keep bald heads warm without being itchy, and it coincides perfectly with these alpacas’ purpose—to help people in need!
Check out the video below to learn more about the important research being done with the help of alpacas!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?