A vaccine for the novel coronavirus could come thanks to an unlikely creature: a 4-year-old llama named Winter.
The novel coronavirus that broke out in December 2019 has since spread on a global scale. Without an active vaccine, preventative social measures continue to be extended by authorities. However, hope is on the horizon. An unassuming chocolate brown llama may help scientists crack the code for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Llama Antibodies to the Rescue
Researchers in Belgium chose Winter at random for their study. They’re testing the SARS and MERS virus strains in llamas and finding surprising results.
Winter’s antibodies successfully fought off the virus infections for both SARS and MERS. These viruses share many similarities to coronavirus. Researchers thought these antibodies may also defeat the novel coronavirus. Turns out, they were correct.
These researchers recently published their success in Cell. Interestingly, llamas are frequently used in antibody studies. Llamas have even helped scientists find therapies for HIV and influenza.
The reason llamas are used for and successful in these coronavirus studies is because llamas produce two types of antibodies. Humans only produce one.
What’s important to note is that one of the llama antibodies is about three-quarters smaller than a human’s. This means that it is small enough to enter virus cells, where larger human antibodies don’t fit. Furthermore, llama antibodies are easily manipulated. The smaller one can actually be attached to human antibodies.
The hope is that the llama antibody may someday become a preventative treatment for the coronavirus. Essential healthcare workers might use it. However, while the effects would be immediate, they would not be permanent. Those who get the injection would need repeat injections after a month or two.
It’s uplifting to see curative results coming to light in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Winter the llama and her friends continue to be a source of hope in uncertain times.