When Master of Biological Sciences graduate Jeff Fagerlund was looking through his microscope as a child, he couldn’t have predicted that his research as an adult might potentially affect thousands of livestock, farmers, veterinarians, and consumers.
Fagerlund’s research at Camas Incorporated, a small biotechnology company specializing in antibody products for the animal sector in Le Center, MN, involves working with antibodies in chicken eggs that can target infectious diseases in livestock when the eggs are added to their feed.
“We are creating an all-natural product that works in a similar way as antibiotics to address challenges to animal health,” Fagerlund says.
This type of treatment, called passive immunotherapy, is where immunity results from the introduction of antibodies from one person or animal to another. This process potentially allows Camas Incorporated’s clients to raise animals that can be marketed as antibiotic free.
Here’s How It Works
A scientist at Camas Incorporated injects a chicken with a small amount of vaccine or a piece of a specific microorganism. The chicken responds by producing antibodies, which are then passed into its eggs. The antibody-rich, unfertilized egg is used to prepare a product that can be added to feed for livestock, cattle, pigs, etc. The antibody will neutralize the pathogen if it’s present in the animal’s GI tract; if not, the animal still benefits from eating a protein-enriched feed.
“Antibodies from eggs are an important alternative to the use of antibiotics to prevent and treat infectious diseases of livestock, especially given the recognized threat that the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture presents to both human and animal health,” says Dr. Brad Fruen, Fagerlund’s academic adviser.
“As technology increases, we are getting better at understanding antibiotics’ longer-term effects—both in the animal and through promotion of antibiotic resistance,” adds Fagerlund.
Life in the Lab
While Fagerlund once immunized the chickens himself, he admits that he is happiest in the lab, doing research and development. A typical day is spent experimenting, with small victories and defeats, raising questions and seeking answers.
“Every day is fascinating. I love learning more every time. I go to work everyday knowing what I’m going to do, and it’s busy nonstop. I don’t want to do just paperwork; I love this.”
Starting as an intern at Camas Incorporated, a company with only 11 employees, Fagerlund realized quickly that he could make a singular difference in a smaller company. “Internships are incredible. It saved me, in terms of bringing me focus.”
In 2008, amid the recession, Fagerlund was hired as a permanent employee. “I knew how rare it was to work in R&D at my age (mid-20s), and I didn’t want to give that up” by returning to school full-time.
His part-time MBS program facilitated the use of University of Minnesota resources to further the goals of his company, allowing both sides access to unparalleled brainpower and equipment. The partnership could play a key role in developing beneficial therapeutic antibodies for a range of diseases.
One of Camas Incorporated’s future goals is to obtain licensing and approval from the USDA. The company currently relies on consulting veterinarians, commercial partners, and end users to spread the word. Meanwhile, Fagerlund is hugely gratified by his investigative lab work.
“I can’t see myself managing the scientists who are doing the experiments… I still want to be doing what I’m doing now. Using high-end, expensive equipment that I never thought I would be able to, is incredible. I don’t think my microscope as a kid even had a light source.”