Things That Matter

South America’s Beloved Llama Could Hold The Cure For Coronavirus – According To Actual Scientists

Did that headline have you wondering wtf? Yea, me too. But according to actual, real scientists and medical researchers, there is legitimate potential for a Coronavirus cure thanks to llamas.

Ever since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, scientists have been scrambling to find a cure. And now, thanks to old research and a llama named Winter, scientists feel they may be one step closer.

It’s true – a Belgian llama is being studied for her potential as a cure to the Coronavirus.

The race to find effective coronavirus treatments has led to an unlikely hero: a 4-year-old Belgian llama named Winter, whose antibodies show promise in blocking the novel Coronavirus that causes Covid-19 from infecting cells.

According to a new study published in the journal Cell, by an international team of researchers, antibodies found in the blood of llamas were able to stave off COVID infections. And it’s a very big deal. In fact, this is one of the very first antibodies that has proven to be neutralize SARS-CoV-2, according to Jason McLellan, from the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study.

The research is actually a few years old which means testing and production are already in the works.

The researchers built on previous research from four years ago in which they found that the antibodies from a then nine-month-old llama named Winter were able to neutralize both SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV viruses over six weeks. These two viruses are also types of Coronavirus, which led the team to consider their use against Covid-19.

Luckily, the antibodies from Winter – who’s now four years old – also fought off SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Apparently, llamas produce special nano-bodies that make their blood unique among animal species.

Credit: VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time llamas have been used in antibody research, as The New York Times reports. Llama antibodies have been used in work related to HIV and influenza, where they helped discover promising therapies.

Thanks to the llamas’ antibodies’ small size, they can connect with different parts of the virus more easily. Llamas like Winter are well suited to this kind of research because they produce nanobodies — about half the size of the antibodies a human would make — that occur in sharks and camelids (such as llamas, alpacas and camels).

“The binding of this antibody to spike is able to prevent attachment and entry, which effectively neutralizes the virus,” Daniel Wrapp, Dartmouth Ph.D. candidate and co-author, explained in the statement.

So what does this all mean for a potential vaccine or treatment?

Credit: VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnology

Vaccines have to be given a month or two before infection to provide protection,” McLellan said in the statement. “With antibody therapies, you’re directly giving somebody the protective antibodies and so, immediately after treatment, they should be protected.”

“The antibodies could also be used to treat somebody who is already sick to lessen the severity of the disease,” McLellan added.

“There is still a lot of work to do to try to bring this into the clinic,” Xavier Saelens, a molecular virologist at Ghent University in Belgium and co-author, told the Times. “If it works, llama Winter deserves a statue.”

And we couldn’t agree more.

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This Group of Latino Students In the Bronx Had Their Names Flown Into Space on NASA’s Mars Rover

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This Group of Latino Students In the Bronx Had Their Names Flown Into Space on NASA’s Mars Rover

Photo via Alejandro Mundo

Everyone has a teacher that has come into their life and gone above and beyond. A teacher that has changed your life for the better. For a group of Latino students at Kingsbridge International High School in the Bronx, that teacher is Alejandro Mundo.

Science teacher Alejandro Mundo encouraged his astronomy class to send their names into the NASA’s Mars space rover.

Not only is Mr. Mundo a beloved high school science teacher, he’s also an associate NASA researcher. Apparently, NASA was the one who proposed the idea to Mr. Mundo in the first place. NASA reached out to Mr. Mundo and asked if the 25 astronomy students would send their names, stenciled on chips, on the Mars Rover.

NASA believed the idea would symbolize a personal touch between humanity and the mystery and wonder of space. They also liked the idea of a group of Latino students–a group that is underrepresented in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)–and the historic space mission.

Alejandro Mundo’s primary reason for becoming a science teacher in the first place was to get more inner-city kids of color into the STEM fields.

As of now, Black and Latinos make up between 8 and 9 percent of STEM occupations. Kingsbridge International High School, the school that Mr. Mundo teaches at, is 93 percent Latino. 86 percent of those students are leaning English as a second language.

“The only way we can change that in the future is by starting with this current generation,” Mundo told NBC News. “So by igniting my students with a passion for science, that is the key that I have seen that can make a difference. Little by little, we will be changing those statistics.”

Born in Mexico, Alejandro Mundo came over to the US when he was 12-years-old, hardly knowing any English.

The adults around him–who were supposed to support him–told him that he would end up “cleaning bathrooms” or “working in a factory”. Mundo knew he was destined for more than that. “No, I’m going to college,” he told himself. “I’m going to get a career, and I’m going to use this career not for my personal growth but to help others, specifically people like me.”

Now, Alejandro Mundo inspires his majority-Latino students to also reach for the stars–literally and figuratively. He does that by engaging them on a creative level, like when he took his class on a field trip to the NYC Center for Aerospace and Applied Mathematics. The center showed his students what its like to be an astronaut. They also viewed a simulated space mission to Mars.

Alejandro Mundo has directly inspired his students both with his teaching methods, and with his own example of success.

In fact, his students love him so much that they created the “Mundology Club”, a club dedicated to STEM fields–and an obvious tribute to their favorite teacher.

“I couldn’t have this opportunity in my country,” said one of Mundo’s students, Dominican-born Jorge Fernandez, about the opportunity for his name to “travel” to Mars. “I feel like our teacher made that possible. It’s really important for us Latinos to get into it, because, basically, we can do a lot.”

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As The U.S. Expands Vaccine Eligibility Here’s What You Need To Know

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As The U.S. Expands Vaccine Eligibility Here’s What You Need To Know

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Starting today, everyone 16 and older can get in line for the Coronavirus vaccine. This is a huge milestone that has been months in the making after a very ambitious plan by the Biden administration.

But with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine still on pause, many have been wondering what the vaccine program will look like – especially since nearly everyone is now eligible to receive a shot in the arm.

As of Monday, anyone 16 and over is technically eligible to receive the Coronavirus vaccine.

On Monday, every state in the U.S. expanded its vaccine eligibility to include all adults over the age of 16, meeting President Biden’s deadline which he established two weeks ago.

The country is now administering 3.2 million doses a day on average, and half of all adults have now received at least one dose. Additionally, 84.3 million people have now been fully vaccinated against the disease. These are truly encouraging figures in the fight against the pandemic but a lot of uncertainty remains.

Ok but can I get a shot?

Technically, yes, anyone over the age of 16 is now eligible for the vaccine but your access to it really varies from state to state.

Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, D.C., were the last to open up eligibility on Monday, after other states expanded access to the general public over the past month.

If the country’s present vaccination rate continues, 70% of the total U.S. population could be vaccinated by June 17 and 90% by July 25, the New York Times has projected. That timeline will likely depend on what happens with Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, however, as distribution is now paused following reports of blood clots, despite being statistically extremely rare.

So, what’s going on with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

On Sunday, the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony S. Fauci said that he believed the pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will likely be lifted on Friday. During interviews on talk shows, Fauci stated that he expected federal health officials to decide on the vaccine’s future by the end of the week and that he did not anticipate the vaccine being permanently banned.

One alternative to banning is to limit who is able to receive the one dose shot, perhaps limiting it to males over the age of 50. This is how Europe adjusted its strategy following similar blood clotting issues with the Astra Zeneca vaccine, which was created using similar methods.

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