vaccineIn-demand zebrafish antibodies produced through a University spinout project are expected to contribute to immune studies for vaccine development and disease prevention.

A University of Aberdeen spinout company is working with the Scottish Fish Immunology Research Centre (SFIRC) to develop in-demand immunology tools and is keen to make them available to the international scientific community.

The project, which has been funded through a University of Aberdeen Encompass Kick Start Award and a Scottish Funding Council Award, aims to fill a gap in the knowledge of zebrafish – an emerging model that has been used to substitute mammalian models in a broad range of research areas from drug testing to cancer research – and enhance its use as an immunological model for the development of vaccines and disease prevention.

The interaction with the funders and the preparation of the applications was facilitated by the Technology Transfer Team at the University’s Research and Innovation Unit. The research, run by University of Aberdeen’s spinout company Vertebrate Antibodies Ltd, in partnership with SFIRC, has successfully produced and validated antibodies against key immune targets in zebrafish, which are now being characterized by international collaborators within the scientific community.

Dr Milena Monte, who is a Principal Investigator on the project, said: “In the last few decades a substantial amount of work has been devoted to the study of fish to understand whether they possess the same mechanisms of defence as mammals.”

“With the discovery of many immune genes and gene families, it is now known that all jawed vertebrates (including fish) possess a complex immune system, capable of developing both adaptive and innate immune responses. However, whilst a lot of effort has been put into studying fish innate and inflammatory responses, little is known about the role of lymphocytes in the adaptive immune system, an important component of immunity if we are to develop effective prophylactic measures, such as vaccines,” she added.

Dr Monte pointed out that recent research has confirmed the suitability of zebrafish as an immune model, adding: “Owing to the high importance of this animal model and the current lack of tools, we decided to produce antibodies against key immune molecules in zebrafish to enhance the research within the fish scientific community.”

“Future research using this organism will contribute not only to studies of mammalian immune disorders but will also advance our knowledge of the fish immune system, which can be used towards vaccine development programmes for aquaculture.”

Dr Monte hopes to apply the antibody production approach and validation assays developed throughout this project to future research in immune studies through further grants and a fellowship programme. Vertebrate Antibodies Limited is using the approach in concurrent projects, aiming to broaden its market by translating the generated knowledge to other non-model fish species and developing new research products.