Obese ferret animal model (SJ-20-0041)

St. Jude Reference #SJ-20-0041


Ferrets are the gold standard for influenza transmission studies. However, they typically don’t exhibit clinical signs which can make risk assessment studies difficult. Obese ferrets have significantly increased disease severity. Besides influenza, ferrets are also used as models for paramyxoviruses, rhabdoviruses, and coronaviruses (including SARS-2). In addition, they are also widely used for diseases such as cystic fibrosis. Commercial applications could include any companies working to develop treatments and vaccines. Researchers here and at other institutions have developed a ferret model of obesity. The following items are the innovations we have made to conventional ferret models:

  • Diet: optimized nutritional content to safely induce obesity in ferrets, the age to begin diets and the duration of diet.
  • Quantification: developed methods to quantify obesity in ferrets. Created a BMI scale for ferrets.
  • Characterization: gross pathology and monitoring of blood chemistry showed that obese ferrets have markers of metabolic syndrome.

None of this has been done before, and these are important because they help researchers:

  • Better recapitulate human clinical signs and disease severity.
  • Use it as a model for high-risk obese individuals.
  • Improve transmission studies since the obese ferrets are more susceptible to influenza.
  • Understand viral evolution within the host – this is important because obese hosts have been shown to shed virus that has mutated to become more virulent.  


Ferret, influenza transmission, paramyxoviruses, rhabdoviruses, coronaviruses (including SARS-2), cystic fibrosis, BMI, gross pathology and monitoring of blood chemistry, metabolic syndrome

Granted patents or published applications

The PCT application published January 20, 2022 as WO 2022/015628.

The national phase is due by January 15, 2023.

Related scientific references

Publications are expected in September, and they have published reviews mentioning the obese ferret model in development:

  • Albrecht et al. 2018 PMID: 30018107
  • Honce et al. 2019 PMID: 31134099
  • Honce et al. 2019 Cold Spring Harbor, available online, book pub. Sept 2020.

Licensing opportunities

We are looking for a partner to commercialize this model for infectious disease testing.

Contact the Office of Technology Licensing (Phone: 901-595-2342, Fax: 901-595-3148) for more information.