Could llamas be just what we need to stop the coronavirus? Yep, a team of international researchers seem to think that llamas could cure COVID-19.
Four years ago, a nine-month-old llama named Winter was selected to participate in a series of virus studies in Belgium. Researchers wanted to find out if antibodies from Winter’s blood could fight off both SARS and MERS. The answer? Yes.
Four years later, those same scientists posited that antibodies from llama blood might also stave off SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The researchers went back to Winter for testing, and the results were positive. The findings were published on Tuesday in the journal Cell.
“This is one of the first antibodies known to neutralize SARS-CoV-2,” Jason McLellan, from the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study, said in a statement.
Llamas and Science
Scientists have been using llamas for antibody research for years. By studying llamas, researchers have found promising therapies for HIV and influenza.
So, why llamas?
While humans produce only one kind of antibody, llamas produce two, and one of them is quite small. It’s only about 25% the size of human antibodies.
“This more diminutive antibody can access tinier pockets and crevices on spike proteins – the proteins that allow viruses like the novel coronavirus to break into host cells and infect us – that human antibodies cannot,” says The New York Times. “That can make it more effective in neutralizing viruses.”
Sharks also have those tiny antibodies, but it goes without saying that it’s a lot easier to deal with a llama than a shark. When studying llamas, all researchers have to worry about is getting spit on.
The authors of the study hope they’ll eventually be able to use llama antibodies as a prophylactic treatment. In that scenario, the antibody would be injected into a human in order to protect that person from the virus.
That “proactive approach” is still months away, says The Times; however, clinical trials are on the horizon. It will also need to be determined whether it’s safe to inject people with llama antibodies in the first place.