COVID-19: Llama, camel antibodies could be used as nasal spray treatment - study

This peer-reviewed study builds off previous studies that determined nanobodies produced by llamas, alpacas and camels could be used to fight coronavirus.

Llama lying down (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Llama lying down
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Unique antibodies made by camels and llamas could be used as a new treatment for COVID-19 in a simple nasal spray, a new study has found.

Published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Nature Communications, the study suggests that nanobodies - single domain antibodies derived from llamas and camels - could be used to combat the virus due to how they bind to the virus cells and neutralize them.

The idea of using antibodies to treat COVID-19 has precedence - indeed, human antibodies have been utilized for just such a purpose. However, these nanobodies can be a cheaper and easier alternative.

The research team discovered this by injecting part of a COVID-19 spike protein into a llama named Fifi, who did not get sick. However, her immune system was triggered.

Further study revealed that the nanobodies were able to combat the Alpha and Beta variants.

 Feeding the llamas in Mitzpe Ramon (credit: Courtesy) Feeding the llamas in Mitzpe Ramon (credit: Courtesy)

The use of these nanobodies to fight COVID-19 also isn't unprecedented. 

Back in August, Israeli and US researchers studied a black llama, Wally, determining that his nanobodies could be used to fight the virus, even the Delta variant. 

In June 2020, Swedish scientists came to a similar conclusion after studying the nanobodies produced by Tyson, an alpaca living in Germany.

And, in May 2020, scientists at the University of Texas came to a similar conclusion while studying the nanobodies produced by a llama named Winter.

In December 2019, even before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the researchers reported in the peer-reviewed journal Science on the development of technology for the identification of nanobodies using proteomics, which determines functional protein networks at the level of the cell, tissue, or whole organism.

After the virus surfaced, they understood that this technology could be effective and used it to determine which nanobodies out of tens of millions could be used to block virus infection.

Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman contributed to this report.