Can Llamas Cure COVID?

Recent studies have shown the immense potential of llama nanobodies fighting against Covid-19.


Photo by Raspopova Marina on Unsplash

Happy to help. Will llamas be the answer to this everlasting pandemic?

Llamas Curing COVID?

Llamas carry mini antibodies that could potentially fight against Covid-19.

No, that’s impossible, right? Maybe not. I realize how crazy this sounds, but recent studies have shown that llamas produce a unique nanobody that could possibly be developed as a new frontline treatment to fight against COVID-19.

What is a nanobody?

Nanobodies are a smaller, simpler form of antibodies, and according to the National Institute of Health, they are extremely strong, robust, and stable molecules that bind to specific targets. Nanobodies are also extremely easy for scientists to manipulate because of their stability. Antibodies are the immune system’s natural defense against infections, and when extracted from blood, they can be used to design treatments and vaccines, so nanobodies are just a smaller version of this. The nanobody was actually discovered by accident in the late 1980s by a lab in Belgium; and ever since then, scientists have been working with camelid nanobodies to create treatments against several diseases, with apparent great success.

Wear your mask! It makes a difference! (Meghan DeGrandpre)

Why Llamas?

Great question. Llamas belong to a group of mammals called camelids, a group that also includes camels and alpaca. Camelids produce unique nanobodies that fights against disease. That being said, this so called “cure” to COVID is more like a buffer. These nanobodies are not meant to prevent a disease, but to lessen the effects it has on humans. Their small size allows them to bind to areas of viral proteins that larger antibodies cannot fit into. This idea was verified in an interview by New Medical with Jason McLellan, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin who claimed: “Llamas generate these nanobodies naturally in high yields, and they fit into pockets that larger-size antibodies can’t access.

In a recent study by the National Institute of Health, they isolated a promising set of nanobodies produced by a llama named Cormac. Preliminary results suggested that at least one of the tested nanobodies could prevent infections and detect particles by grabbing hold of SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins, which is the virus that causes COVID-19. Additionally, it was found that the nanobody worked equally as well in both liquid and aerosol form, suggesting it could be taken as a nasal spray and remain effective after inhalation.

Will llamas be our saving grace in the fight against Covid-19, or is this just another farce to get our hopes up?

This study was led by two neuroscientists who work at a brain imaging lab at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Thomas J. Esparza, B.S., and David L. Brody, M.D., Ph.D. When the pandemic broke out, they realized that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to join the fight against this deadly virus and attempt to find a solution. In an interview with the National Institute of Health, Dr. Brody said: “We hope that these anti-COVID-19 nanobodies may be highly effective and versatile in combating the coronavirus pandemic.”

Maintain social distancing to reduce to spread of COVID-19. (Meghan DeGrandpre)

What now?

This study has mostly been tested in the animal setting to prepare for clinical studies in humans, and many scientists are saying that these nanobodies are a very promising prevention method to counter the coronavirus.

According to Dr. Andrew Bourne, Director of Partnerships at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), in an interview with UK Research and Innovation: “Utilizing the unique properties of llamas’ nanobodies, this research could lead to an important new form of treatment for COVID-19 that is cheaper to produce and easier to administer.”┬áIf we had this cheaper alternative to fight against the coronavirus, it would be able to access a much larger audience than the normal, expensive medical treatment we have in most hospitals today.

Sophomore at Lafayette High School, Katie Motes, poses with the COVID signs at our school.

Although these llama nanobodies are not an immediate solution to end this pandemic, as I am sure we all want, it is the first step of many towards developing a new type of treatment against COVID-19. One that will hopefully lead to more steps in the right direction to finally put a stop to COVID-19. I’ll leave you with a friendly reminder to wear your mask, stay six feet apart, and just be smart and conscious of your surroundings.