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Researchers find llama's blood could hold key to 'super-immunity' against COVID-19, other viruses


The key to immunity against COVID-19 and its variants could come from llama’s blood, according to new research.

A study, led by researchers from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, reports that immune particles found in the blood of a llama could provide strong protection against COVID-19 and its variants, as well as a wide range of SARS-like viruses. The study suggests it could even protect against SARS-CoV-2. which causes COVID-19, and SARS-CoV-1, which was behind the SARS outbreak in 2003.

The research, published in the journal Cell Reports on Tuesday, suggests that these particles, called nanobodies, could be used to develop a fast-acting antiviral treatment that can be inhaled.

Llamas and similar animals, such as camels and alpacas, have unique immune systems, because their antibodies are smaller than other species’, which makes them more stable, researchers said. Because they are small and stable, it is also easier for these particles to bond to diseases targets inside the body.

Researches found that because the particles were small and easy to bind, they could be formed into a kind of daisy chain that is able to catch any viruses that attempt to escape the antibodies by mutating.

“We learned that the tiny size of these nanobodies gives them a crucial advantage against a rapidly mutating virus,” co-author Ian Wilson, a professor of structural biology at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., said in a press release. “Specifically, it allows them to penetrate more of the recesses, nooks and crannies of the virus surface, and thus bind to multiple regions to prevent the virus from escaping and mutating.”

As part of the study, the team immunized a llama named Wally with the virus spike of SARS-CoV-2, which in human bodies would latch on to cells and infect them. After repeated immunizations, the researchers found Wally began to produce nanobodies that recognized SARS-CoV-2, as well as what the researchers called “super-immunity” against an array of other coronaviruses.

The researchers suggest with this structural information, they could possibly develop a molecule that could be used in an inhaled treatment or spray.

“While more research is needed, we believe that the broad protection, ultrapotent nanobodies we were able to isolate in the lab can be harnessed for use in humans,” said lead author Yi Shi, an associate professor of pharmacological sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Top Stories

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