Researchers look to horseshoe crabs for help with a COVID vaccine

They are on the beach and folks probably don’t give them a second thought. For decades, horseshoe crabs have played a role in vaccine development. Researchers are now looking at how they could help with a COVID vaccine.

“The horseshoe crab is making an enormous contribution as the manufacturers get ready for the push,” stated Doctor Jim Cooper.

Coronavirus vaccines are on the way, though nobody’s got a real due date. Doctor Cooper says they’ll get here faster and be safer because of testing he helped develop in the 70s that relies on the blood of the horseshoe crab.

“Probably more of the reagent is being used right now than will be used next year when they go into production, because they’re testing their methods for producing the vaccine,” Dr. Cooper explained.

The horseshoe crab has survived virtually unchanged for nearly half a billion years, longevity Patty Woodruff, from Rutgers University’s Cape Shore Laboratory, attributes to a unique blood makeup that reacts to toxins.

“And, they create this really cool chemical in their blood. It’s an amebocyte, and when it’s in the presence of endotoxins made by bacteria, it gels really, really easily and it’s very sensitive to it,” Woodruff explained.

It makes for an excellent testing system but a hard hit on horseshoe crab populations through the years, through the use of their blood and as trap bait. Woodruff, who focuses on sustainability, says recent numbers are cause for optimism.

“And, the cool thing, they just wrapped up their last one in 2019. And, the numbers are all stable or slightly. And, they look at discreet populations. Our population here in the mid-Atlantic has improved since the last assessment,” Woodruff commented.

That’s not to say people can’t help out. If a horseshoe crab is seen marooned on its back, the instructions are simple – flip them back over and leave them alone.


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