Llamas Could Be Useful In Search For Coronavirus Treatment

Scientists and medical experts continue to look at different ways to understand the COVID-19 virus better and it appears an unusual animal can render answers. The United States and Belgian scientists identified a tiny particle in llamas that appear to block the new coronavirus, raising hopes of possibly coming up with a vaccine for people infected by the COVID-19 strain.

A research was published recently by Belgium’s VIB-UGent center for medical biotechnology and the University of Texas at Austin on the journal Cell, which is about a llama named Winter at the center of it all. The study is not new and started several years ago with the intent of fighting off the SARS and MERS viruses.

"The work was a side project in 2016. We thought maybe this was interesting," Xavier Saelens, joint leader of the Belgian part of the collaboration, said. "Then the new virus came and it became potentially more crucial, more important."

In the study, Winter was injected with safe versions of SARS and MERS after which blood samples were taken later. It should be noted that llamas and other members of the camel family are known to produce standard antibodies and smaller antibodies that allow scientists to work better. Fragments of the smaller antibodies (nanobodies) were taken, something that made it easier for scientists to identify which among the nanobodies reacted strongly to the coronavirus, Reuters reported.

Humans can produce only one kind of antibody coming from two protein chains - heavy and light, the New York Times reported. Both form a Y-shape, with the heavy chain proteins spanning the Y while the light-chain proteins touch only the arms of the Y's arms. Llamas produce two antibodies similar in size to that of human antibodies, only that its arms are much shorter. However, one of them is smaller, about 25 percent of the size compared to that of humans.

Saelens described the new virus as a cousin of the SARS virus. It was described as having a corona, or crown with the shape of protein spikes where the antibody could latch on. Further research on animals is being planned before moving forward and trying it on humans. Saelens added that they are also collaborating with pharmaceuticals on the matter.

"There is still a lot of work to do to try to bring this into the clinic," Dr. Saelens said. "If it works, llama Winter deserves a statue."

llama The rise in prominence of exotic meats has health experts worried about the risks and local authorities worried about the legality. Alexandre Buisse, Creative Com