While humans are considered the dominant and pioneering species on this planet, there’s no denying that we’ve relied on animals for a lot of things throughout history, from transportation to companionship, and even medical breakthroughs. Our ability to study animals and how they respond to certain drugs or treatments has given us a way to test and improve medicines that have transformed the life expectancy and quality of life of our species. In addition to playing the role of test subjects for the benefit of mankind, animals are also used in the lab to produce antibodies and study how to make new antibodies, being that many pathogens that can infect humans can also affect certain kinds of animals. In the following paragraphs we’ll provide a brief overview explaining how animals are used to produce antibodies that are then used to create powerful vaccines that safeguard society from previously life-threatening illnesses.
Finding Animals that Can Produce the Right Antibody
First, scientists need to find out which animal is capable of producing antibodies that will successfully neutralise the target antigen, which is essentially what causes the illness in humans. Animals that are commonly used for the production of polyclonal antibodies include farm animals like goats, chickens, sheep, hamsters, guinea pigs, rats, mice, and rabbits, with the latter being the most commonly used for this purpose. The appropriate animal is selected based on the amount of antibodies that need to be produced, the compatibility between the animal’s antibodies and the human recipient, and the overall health of the individual specimen, as animals that are already carrying pathogens are not preferred.
Making Sure the Animal is Safe for Antibody Production
After selecting the animal for antibody production, the scientists then need to make sure the animals are vaccinated according to a specific immunisation schedule to ensure that no diseases are passed from the antibody producing animal to the human recipient. The animal’s blood is screened for certain characteristics to determine whether they’re an ideal fit for the process. Animals that are used for antibody production in the lab are often raised from the time they’re young to ensure that no vulnerabilities are present, as bringing in animals with questionable backgrounds presents the possibility for pre-existing illnesses to cause contamination in the antibody extraction process. Rabbits are preferred because they’re known to produce superior antibodies.
Finally, the scientist exposes the animal to a strategic amount of the target antigen to evoke an immune system response so that the animal starts producing antibodies that fight the disease in large numbers. Scientists check to make sure the antibodies being produced are specific to the exact antigen they’re trying to find a cure or vaccine for. Once the animal encounters the pathogen they’re body begins producing antibodies that are tailored to attach to and neutralise the pathogen. These antibodies are then extracted in the animal’s serum and stored in a vile for further extraction and purification.