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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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