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Could a Llama Save Us From COVID-19? Page 4
Could a Llama Save Us From COVID-19? Meet Winter, a 4-Legged Hero of Vaccine Research
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, people have turned to their four-legged friends for help and comfort. In Nebraska, an 11-year-old girl and her pony, Peanut, cheered up nursing home residents through their windows this spring, while in Pennsylvania, an award-winning golden retriever named Jackson starred in videos that kept thousands laughing. Pets like these have given the national mood a boost, but another four-legged critter deserves just as much recognition. Her name is Winter, and she’s the 4-year-old llama whose antibodies could help us beat the coronavirus. At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Llamas? Really? What will these scientists think up next?” But in fact, Winter wasn’t an outside-of-the-box discovery during the COVID-19 vaccine scramble. Llamas have been helping scientists battle viruses for years. That’s because, along with her fuzzy brown coat and long eyelashes, Winter has a unique virus treatment hidden in her blood: llama antibodies.
off both infections. Llamas have also helped out with research for HIV and influenza. It turns out llama antibodies are smaller than the ones found in humans, which makes it easier for them to wiggle into the tiny pockets in virus-carrying proteins. This superpower gives them the ability to “neutralize” viruses, including COVID-19. Studies are now showing that using these llama antibodies in humans could potentially keep coronaviruses from entering human cells as well. At least two separate llama studies have shown the effectiveness of these antibodies on coronavirus infections. This summer, a team of researchers from the U.K. discovered that llama antibodies “have the potential to be used in a similar way to convalescent serum, effectively stopping progression of the virus in patients who are ill” when given to those patients in a transfusion. They also suggested that a cocktail of llama and human antibodies could be even more successful at temporarily blocking the virus.
Studies of the latter are in the works, and scientists around the world have their fingers crossed for success. In the meantime, Winter will continue peacefully grazing in Belgium, unaware that she just might play a role in saving the world.
According to The New York Times, Winter has participated in past studies for both SARS and MERS — diseases also caused by coronaviruses — and her antibodies fought
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