Are Llamas The Key To The Coronavirus Cure?

We definitely didn't see this plot twist coming.

Can Llamas Cure Coronavirus (COVID-19)? Getty

When it comes to coronavirus, there's honestly nowhere we shouldn't be looking to find a cure or an effective treatment to help people who have tested positive at that point, and now, we're looking to animals to give us a little help. 

It seems like a certain 4-year-old llama in Belgium named Winter could end up holding the key to a cure for COVID-19, and how cool would it be if she was the hero who saved us all? 


Here's why scientists think this llama could end up being instrumental in moving forward with a cure to coronavirus.

Can llamas cure coronavirus (COVID-19?)

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Llamas have been used in antibody research for a long time.



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The reason why llamas are particularly efficient in this department, especially in comparison to humans? They create two types of antibodies, instead of just one like humans do, and the second type of antibody is smaller, which means that it's better at accessing spike proteins, which are the kind that help coronaviruses infect people. This means that the llama's antibodies are better at shutting that virus down than the type that humans have.

Now, this particular llama could help neutralize coronavirus like she's done for other viruses in the past.


This isn't Winter's first experience being used in scientific research. Back in 2016, she was injected with spike proteins that cause SARS, and researchers found that she was able to produce separate antibodies that could fight SARS and MERS, which is a pretty huge deal. Since SARS and COVID are in the same virus family, they realized that it was possible that Winter's antibodies could also fight that, too, and after more research, scientists discovered that they were right about their hypothesis. Who knew? 

Her antibodies could be used to create an effective treatment.

Researchers who worked on the study think that Winter's antibodies could be used as a prophylactic treatment against coronavirus. However, it would have to be administered as an injection before the person became infected, and it would only last a couple of months before another injection was needed, but it would definitely be a solution that we haven't found any other way yet. The antibodies have been successful in cell cultures, and hopefully, that will translate to real human patients, too. 

Winter isn't the only llama with this ability.


In fact, all llamas can produce these antibodies — and so can any animal in their mammal family, including alpacas and others who are considered camelids. At this point, Winter just so happens to be the llama who's been studied, but she wouldn't have to be the only one who could contribute antibodies to help save lives.

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Antibody treatment could be the best option we have until there's a vaccine.

According to infectious disease experts, treatments like these could be used as a temporary fix until a more effective vaccine is widely available, and Regeneron officer George Yancopoulos has said that as they continue to do more trials involving animals, something could end up being available to the public by the fall of 2020, if not sooner.


“It’s never been done before,” Yancopoulos said. “On the other hand, I don’t think we ever had quite a pandemic like this before. And so the hope is yes, it might be possible by the end of the summer or the fall that our antibody treatment could be available. A lot of risks, a lot of concerns, but we are working as hard as we can with so many collaborators to try to turn that into a reality.”

This study is still in progress, though.

Human testing would be next for Winter's antibodies, and that kind of clinical trial can take a long time, so it will definitely be months before we know if this is a viable option. Still, it's encouraging to see that different treatments like this are out there and being tested. And who knows? Winter could end up saving the world. 


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Nicole Pomarico is an entertainment and lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in Cosmo, Us Weekly, Refinery29, and more.