Vanderbilt researchers: These Tennessee alpacas could cure cancer, Alzheimer's, autism

Courtesy Vanderbilt University

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — Researchers at Vanderbilt University say a group of alpacas in Tennessee could be the key to cure autism, Alzheimer's and even cancer.

The happy herd at Litton Farms in Waverly could potentially save lives as researchers try to harness their power to create antibodies.

Those antibodies will be used to study human disease and potentially treat human patients, Vanderbilt said in a news release.

“Alpacas have an exceptionally unique immune system,” associate professor of pharmacology Brian Wadzinski said. “Their antibodies can be used for research, diagnostic and therapeutic purposes and, because of the unique features of these antibodies, we’re able to harvest them. They’re acid stable, heat stable and there’s good evidence they pass the blood-brain barrier.”

Antibodies from these Alpacas can be used to "visualize and potentially regulate" the PPP2R5D enzyme, which researchers said has been linked to autism, Alzheimer’s disease and some cancers.

It brings new hope for families like the Wilsons, who traveled from Madison County to meet with the Alpacas. Asa Wilson, 11, was diagnosed with Jordan's Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder caused by alterations in the PPP2R5D gene. Asa was born with no muscle tone and didn’t take his first steps until age 5 and still doesn’t speak in sentences.

“I love watching them herd together, like a little family,” mom Kim Wilson said. “I never thought they could help Asa in a way that could mean so much to my family. I’m just thankful for the scientists who know where to look for these things.”

Researchers said less than 100 children have been diagnosed with this disease, but they believe some kids have been misdiagnosed with autism.

Turkey Creek Biotechnology, launched by Wadzinski and Ben Spiller, also an associate professor of pharmacology and Rich Breyer, the Ruth King Scoville Chair in Medicine, purchased the herd.

Breyer said it only takes a small, quick sample from the Alpacas for the research that could one-day be life-saving for sick patients.