Could llamas be the answer to need for coronavirus antibodies?

A 4-year-old llama named Winter may have antibodies that can neutralize the new coronavirus, a new study shows, according to The New York Times.

The study, published in the journal Cell, began in 2016 with Texas researchers studying the llama's antibodies to see if they could stave off infections from different types of coronavirus. They found that the llama had separate antibodies that could neutralize SARS and MERS.

The researchers were writing up their findings when the new coronavirus hit the U.S. in January. They immediately tested the llama's antibodies to see if there was one that could fight the new virus. They found the antibodies that can neutralize SARS can also inhibit the new coronavirus in cell cultures, the Times reports.

Scientists have used llamas in antibody research for years, including in research of HIV and influenza therapies. Llamas produce two types of antibodies, one which is the same size as the antibodies humans produce, the other a smaller in size. These smaller antibodies can access the tiny pockets on spike proteins, which are the proteins that allow viruses to break into host cells in the human body and infect it. Thus, the smaller llama antibodies can more effectively neutralize viruses, according to the Times.

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