Believe it or not, llamas may be the answer to the coronavirus pandemic. As the entire world is working hard at trying to find antidotes, cures, the whole nine yards, a Belgian study may have finally broken through the wall that was the lack of knowledge on how to overcome this virus. And Winter, the chosen llama for research, just might become the hero who saves us all.
Dr. Xavier Saelens (molecular virologist at Ghent University in Belgium), Daniel Wrapp (graduate student affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin and Dartmouth College), and Dr. Jason McLellan (structural virologist at the University of Texas at Austin) came together to research how types of antibodies can combat specific infections. Just like all great discoveries, using llama antibodies against COVID-19 was an accidental idea that stemmed from their studies in fighting the SARS virus and MERS. Winter was chosen by the research team to participate in the series of these studies, and what they discovered might create big changes in the medical world.
The research team found that Winter’s antibodies did fight off the SARS virus and MERS. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, they decided to apply the same idea to fighting COVID-19 in hopes that the llama antibodies would act the same way. And they were sort of in the right track.
Publishing their results in the scientific journal Cell, they established that llama antibodies are easier to manipulate. Thus, when possibly fusing with human antibodies, it may be more effective in neutralizing the virus that causes COVID-19. The llama antibodies fit in the crevices on spike proteins, which are proteins that “allow viruses like the novel coronavirus to break into host cells and infect us,” essentially preventing COVID-19’s ability to do so.
The research team hopes that this breakthrough will eventually be used in coronavirus treatments, injecting people with the antibody therapies who haven’t been infected yet, starting with health care workers. According to the results, the new antibody protection would be immediate but not permanent. It would only last a month or two before needing another injection.
That being said, before we run off and tell everyone that a llama is most definitely a cure, STOP! Of course, like everything in the science world, there definitely needs to be more research done on using the new antibody therapies, but it’s small a start. It’s still not clear how safe it is to inject llama antibodies into humans, but if this breakthrough is phenomenal, then a whole new perspective will open up about camelids.
I don’t want to speak too soon, but we might be rewarding Winter for her work. And she might have no idea about how she possibly may have saved the world.