Monday, December 12, 2005

How geese could cure West Nile

December 10

I had dinner at the restaurant formerly known as La Côte Basque, which is now LCB Brasserie Rachou, with, among other people, Jim Schiltz, president of the National Goose Council.
Jim raises or processes about 75 percent of all the geese eaten in North America, so it makes sense that he's chief of the goose council. Then again, only 200,000-300,000 geese are raised in America each year, so it's not that big a deal.
Jim's a cutting-edge guy, though, and as I munched on a terrine of pig trotters and apples, followed by sweetbreads (I don't know why I was in a weird-food mood, but clearly I was, although I had warm chocolate cake for dessert), he explained a treatment he has developed for West Nile Virus.
His flock was hit by West Nile four years ago, and it killed a quarter of them virtually overnight. The virus has been coming back every year, so Jim has been collecting blood from the geese who survive and, working with scientists who know about such things, has been using them to develop a serum.
Unlike vaccines, in which dead viruses are injected into patients so they can develop their own antibodies against those viruses in case live ones come their way, Jim's serum is a collection of antibodies produced by his turkeys that survived the virus. He says West Nile mutates a lot, which means the serum, as it has been developed over the years, has become a collection of an array of slightly different antibodies, each capable of knocking out a different strain of West Nile.
He and his partner have a preliminary patent on the serum, and it's about to start being tested on hamsters, an early step, maybe, in getting it approved for use on people.

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