World-First mRNA Vaccine Could Topple Number One Killer Of Baby Asian Elephants

Tess the 40-year-old Asian elephant has become the first recipient

BY RACHAEL FUNNELL
A deadly disease for baby Asian elephants is the target for an mRNA vaccine that has been administered to an elephant for the first time. Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) is the number one killer for Asian elephant calves living under managed care in North America and Europe, and is a significant threat for free-ranging populations. It has also been connected to a number of African elephant deaths in the United States.

EEHV is so deadly because it can cause hemorrhagic disease characterized by damaged blood vessels, bleeding, and organ failure. To prevent this, the EEHV mRNA vaccine exposes elephants to the viral proteins that enable the virus to enter the host’s cells, effectively preparing them so that they can launch an immune attack should the same viral proteins come knocking again. This means their bodies can fight off EEHV before it’s had a chance to take hold.

The world-first vaccine was developed by Dr Paul Ling of the Baylor College of Medicine in partnership with Houston Zoo, with a helping hand from a few unexpected places. There’s Colossal Biosciences, the de-extinction giants trying to bring back mammoths and save a few endangered species along the way, and the COVID-19 vaccine.

Colossal helped to provide research support and acceleration funding for the vaccine. Meanwhile, the rapid deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine – and all the pipelines that enabled its fast development – energized the efforts to develop the mRNA-based vaccine for EEHV.

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