Exploring the use of nanobodies to help prevent diarrhea in piglets

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages
© GettyImages

Related tags piglet nanobodies Zinc oxide Diarrhea

A Danish project, called Ablacto+, will determine the efficacy and safety of using a nanobody-based product in piglets to prevent outbreaks of E. coli induced post-weaning diarrhea.

The project partners include biotech company, Bactolife, Danish company, Novozymes, the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), Denmark pig research group, SEGES and Aarhus University.

The special proteins under exploration are nanobodies - these antibodies from llamas could constitute an environmentally friendly alternative to medicinal zinc added to feed rations, said the researchers.

Llama derived antibodies

The nanobodies are derived from antibodies found in llamas. Llamas and other animals from the Camelidae​ family produce antibodies, the binding site of which has special characteristics, they are more stable and more compact than similar proteins. They do not interact with other substances or processes in the body, and they will most likely not lead to resistance development, said Sa​ndra Wingaard Thrane, co-founder and senior scientist, Bactolife.

A Belgian university discovered nanobodies, but the university’s general patent to the use of them has now expired, thus allowing Bactolife to use them in its research efforts, she explained. 

The project has only just got underway and has been held up, evidently, by the COVID-19 outbreak. Officially starting in February this year, it is set to run until October 2023.

In a previous project on the nanobody product, preliminary experiments were carried out in laboratories at DTU and experimental facilities at Aarhus University in Foulum.

In this project, the product will be further developed, tested in vitro, in vivo,​ and in a production herd for in-depth product development and definition of dosage, pricing and for final product market approval, said the team.

The Danish government’s Green Development and Demonstration Program (GUDP) is providing almost 11 million DKK for the project. 

Trial work

Researchers from Aarhus University will carry out dosage response trials. Nuria Canibe, senior researcher, Department of Animal Science, Aarhus University, told FeedNavigator:

“The nanobodies don’t kill the bacteria, they bind them, that is the idea. In in-vivo studies, we will challenge the animals with ETEC and we will see whether the proteins reduce diarrhea or reduce or shorten the shedding of ETEC; we will explore several clinical aspects related to an E. coli challenge.

“Initially, we will give the additive directly to animals, via their mouths, and then we will try mixing it with the feed.”

Novozymes’ role in the project will cover production of the naobody product, the toxicity studies, and all the regulatory aspects, said Canibe.

In terms of the other collaborators, Bactolife came up with the idea, established the company and will be in charge of the development of nanobodies, while researchers from DTU Bioengineering will continue to carry out in vitro experiments in relation to the nanobodies, she explained.

“In the final phase, SEGES will carry out a large on-farm study to see whether the additive really prevents diarrhea and they will also test it against piglet performance,”​ said Canibe. 

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