Llama antibodies have “significant potential” as potent Covid-19 treatment

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A unique type of tiny antibody produced by llamas could provide a new frontline treatment against Covid-19 that can be taken by patients as a simple nasal spray.

Research led by scientists at the Rosalind Franklin Institute has shown that nanobodies – a smaller, simple form of antibody generated by llamas and camels – can effectively target the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.

They found that short chains of the molecules, which can be produced in large quantities in the laboratory, significantly reduced signs of the Covid-19 disease when administered to infected animal models.

“Nanobodies have a number of advantages over human antibodies,” said Professor Ray Owens, head of protein production at the Rosalind Franklin Institute and lead author of the research. “They are cheaper to produce and can be delivered directly to the airways through a nebuliser or nasal spray, so can be self-administered at home rather than needing an injection. This could have benefits in terms of ease of use by patients but it also gets the treatment directly to the site of infection in the respiratory tract.”

The research team, whose findings are published in the journal Nature Communication, were able to generate the nanobodies by injecting a portion of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein into a llama called Fifi, who is part of the antibody production facility at the University of Reading.

The spike protein is found on the outside of the virus and is responsible for binding to human cells so it can infect them.

Although the injections did not make Fifi sick, it triggered her immune system to fight off the virus protein by generating nanobodies against it. A small blood sample was then taken from the llama and the researchers were able to purify four nanobodies capable of binding to the Covid-19 virus.

The nanobodies were then combined together into chains of three to increase their ability to bind to the virus. These were then produced in cells in the laboratory.


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Written by

Deirdre Tynan

Deirdre Tynan is an award-winning journalist who enjoys bringing the best in news reporting to Spain’s largest English-language newspaper, Euro Weekly News. She has previously worked at The Mirror, Ireland on Sunday and for news agencies, media outlets and international organisations in America, Europe and Asia. A huge fan of British politics and newspapers, Deirdre is equally fascinated by the political scene in Madrid and Sevilla. She moved to Spain in 2018 and is based in Jaen.

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