Llamas have unique antibodies that are so tiny they can bind to the proteins of the coronavirus preventing their spread. Scientists are hoping to harness the power of these antibodies to prevent the virus from infecting humans.
According to NBC News, researchers from the University of California in San Francisco developed a molecule in their laboratory using llama antibodies as a model that has proven to be surprising effective in neutralizing the coronavirus.
“It binds to the virus’ protein with an unmatched affinity — we’ve never seen anything like this in my lab before,” said Peter Walter, a biologist and biochemist at UC San Francisco. “It was absolutely beautiful to see.”
Walter and his team admit they have a long way to go before their work transforms into an effective treatment for the coronavirus. According to NBC News, Belgium virologists have been studying llama antibodies for years. Xavier Saelens, of Ghent University, found llama antibodies protected against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and were also able to block SARS-C0V-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The findings were published in May in the journal Cell.
In 2016, before the current pandemic began, the scientists at Ghent were researching whether llamas could produce antibodies against two other coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-1, and MERS-CoV. They injected Winter, a llama still alive and living on a farm in Belgian, with versions of these viruses over a period of six weeks. After taking blood from her, they found a particular “single-domain” antibody which is exclusive to the llamas and other camelids was able to bind tightly to the characteristic spikes of SARS-CoV-1, preventing it from attaching and infecting cells in a culture.
“That was exciting to me because I’d been working on this for years,” said Daniel Wrapp, one of the researchers from the Department of Microbiology at University of Texas who was also working with Ghent University in Belgium on this project, according to Newsweek. “But there wasn’t a big need for a coronavirus treatment then. Now, this can potentially have some transformational implications, too.”
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