Can the llama hold the key to an effective Covid-19 vaccine?

Apr 23, 2020 | 5 comments

The llama could become humanity’s new “best friend”, perhaps. An unexpected ally in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that plagues the world. It is not something new, of course.

The Incas already made the most of it for its meat, its wool, and also as a pack animal. But at present, it could have a different role than that given by the original peoples of the Puna or Altiplano of the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, and Colombia.

It happens that in the blood of these mammals could be the key to beat the elusive virus. How is this? A few years ago, scientists at the Scripps Institute in California used llama blood to produce a new antibody therapy that, they said at the time, “has the potential to fight all types of flu, including pandemics.”

Those responsible for the study, whose results were published in the prestigious journal Science, explained that these animals produce incredibly small antibodies compared to ours. Antibodies are the weapons of the immune system and bind to proteins that protrude from the virus’s surface.

The llamas make incredibly small antibodies compared to ours. Antibodies are the weapons of the immune system and bind to proteins that protrude from the virus’s surface.

Human antibodies tend to attack the tips of those proteins, but that’s the part that the flu changes the fastest.

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While the antibodies in the llama use their advantageous size to meander deeper and attack the parts that the flu cannot change.

“It is very effective, there were 60 different types of viruses that were used in the challenge and only one was not neutralized and that is a virus that does not affect humans,” Professor Ian Wilson, one of the researchers, told the BBC researchers. “The objective here is to provide something that works from station to station and that also protects you from possible pandemics, if they appear,” added the scientist at the time.

But that study was very preliminary, and the same specialists claimed that more research was needed to confirm or rule out this discovery.

And, of course, now that work becomes relevant and the investigations accelerate.

New tests

Belgian researchers at the Vlaams Institute for Biotechnology in Ghent are currently testing the camelid blood molecules, saying “they may serve as useful therapies during coronavirus outbreaks.”

“The feasibility of using llama antibodies warrants further investigation,” the authors added to the Sunday Times .

These antibodies have proven effective against viruses such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in the past.
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Credit: Clarín International

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