Canadian Poultry Magazine

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Dalhousie researchers using poultry for COVID-19 study

Scientists using chickens to isolate COVID-19 antibodies.


June 30, 2020
By Brett Ruffell


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Bruce Rathgeber of the Dal-hosted Atlantic Poultry Research Institute.

The Atlantic Poultry Research Centre on the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus has partnered with AffinityImmuno Inc, in Prince Edward Island, one of the first laboratories to manufacture antibodies against COVID-19.

Following successful production of antibodies in chickens to COVID-19 spike proteins, a partner was needed who had the capacity to increase the number of chickens involved in the process in order to scale-up production. This is where the Faculty of Agriculture stepped in.

“The initial goal was to involve 100 hens for this research,” explains Associate Professor Bruce Rathgeber. “A high demand for COVID-19 spike protein has left us short. We currently have 51 birds and are still planning to have a group of 49 to bring it up to 100 once more protein becomes available.”

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The Faculty of Agriculture will send eggs from the injected chickens to AffinityImmuno Inc., who will be harvestingantibodies from the yolks. The antibodies will be evaluated for a manufacturing effort toward the development of a simple-to-use diagnostic device to test for the virus as well as whether someone has been exposed and developed their own immunity.

“Antibodies against COVID-19 can be useful for a number of applications in the fight to control this disease,” says Dr. Rathgeber. “So far we have given our birds two doses of the material and we are closely monitoring their health.”

There is no risk the chickens will become sick from the COVID-19 spike protein as it is only a virus protein and not the complete virus. Additionally, there is no evidence that this virus is active in birds.