In a llama named Winter, researchers have found an unlikely ally in the hunt for an effective treatment for COVID-19, the University of Texas at Austin said in a statement. The researchers linked two copies of a special kind of antibody produced by llamas and created a new antibody, which binds tightly to a key protein on the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV2. This protein is the spike protein, shaped like a corona (crown) that gives coronaviruses their name. It is also the protein that allows the virus to break into human and animal cells.
Initial tests with the new antibody and cultured cells indicated the antibody blocks viruses with this spike protein from infecting cells. The researchers are from the University of Texas at Austin, US National Institutes of Health and Ghent University in Belgium. They have reported their findings in the May 5 issue of the journal Cell. The paper is online as a “pre-proof” — meaning it is peer-reviewed but undergoing final proofreading.
The team is now preparing to conduct preclinical studies in animals such as hamsters or nonhuman primates, with the hopes of next testing in humans. The goal is to develop a treatment that would help people soon after infection with the virus.
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Winter, the llama, is 4 years old, female, and living on a farm in the Belgian countryside along with approximately 130 other llamas and alpacas.
Source: University of Texas at Austin