Llamas – they’re cute and having their pop culture moment, even if they do sometimes spit.
And they may also be able to save human lives.
One llama in particular, to be precise. A resident of Ghent University's Vlaams Institute for Biotechnology Farm, four-year-old Winter has been part of treatment research for viruses in the same family as COVID-19 for a while. With the pandemic, scientists hope she may be our ticket to a cure or vaccine.
Like all llamas, Winter can produce small antibodies that are very flexible when it comes to fighting viruses. When various coronaviruses, including COVID-19 , were injected into her bloodstream, her small antibodies were able to destroy them.
(Note for fellow animal lovers: According to a veterinarian friend, injecting part of a virus – not to mention a virus that’s not known to affect her species- into Winter means that she didn’t run any serious health risks. So, this is a win-win for human medicine and llama wellbeing.)
Things are still in the research phase, but if all goes well, drugs might be created be from Winter’s powerful llama antibodies that could help us manage or even cure COVID-19.
Contact Our Writer – Alysa Salzberg