The ship of the desert's pharmaceutical cargo

The smaller antibodies of the camel could help fight human viral diseases and cancer.

Lynn Eaton
Dec 20, 2001

LONDON — The camel, some people scathingly suggest, is nothing better than a horse designed by a committee. If that is true, one thing is for sure: the committee must have had an immunologist as a member.

A team from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a desert country with a quarter of a million camels, has gathered together all the current research into the animal's unique immune system. It appears that camels — whether with one hump or two — are less susceptible to a whole host of diseases, including foot and mouth disease, Rift Valley fever, mad cow disease and African horse sickness. The reason behind this is the camel's antibody structure, which is less complex than that of humans. And it's thought that this simplified structure could be used to create antibodies that could eventually help humans as well.

Most people in the West will have only...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?