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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 27, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 09
Llamas immune to HIV - Antibodies might lead to vaccine
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Llamas immune to HIV - Antibodies might lead to vaccine

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Llamas seem to be immune to HIV, a study by an international team of researchers says, and more study of llama antibodies may lead to new HIV vaccines.

The study, published in PLOS Pathogens magazine, was conducted by scientists at University College London, Harvard Medical School, and Argentina's Center of Animal Virology.

The scientists discovered that one llama antibody, which develops in response to HIV, 'potently neutralizes more than 95 percent of HIV strains.' Human HIV antibodies, in contrast, seem to be completely ineffective at halting the virus they have evolved to target.

The discovery was made after three llamas were injected with a portion of the AIDS virus. After the antibodies were given a chance to develop, the animals' blood was then extracted and examined. While the quantity of HIV that was injected into the llama subjects was not enough for the animals to actually contract the disease, it did allow them to develop immunity to it.

Unlike human antibodies, llama antibodies have a single chain of proteins, which allows them to accurately aim at specific viruses. Human antibodies, on the other hand, have a short and a long chain and tend to use a scatter-gun approach, attacking all foreign viruses they find.

For some as yet to be determined reason, that has stopped them from effectively attacking the AIDS virus.

Alpacas share the characteristic with llamas.

Doctors at Peru's Alexander von Humboldt Institute of Tropical Medicine are already researching the potential to prevent or treat the liver disease Hepatitis B using alpaca antibodies.

Institute Director Eduardo Gotuzzo, who was not involved in the HIV study, gave a cautious welcome to its findings.

'It has only been carried out with three llamas so far, and the effect has only been seen in vitro [in other words, in a lab, using cells taken from a living animal],' he said.

'So, there is a long way to go before we can really see how significant this is, but it is certainly a very interesting discovery. It is an open door, and here in Peru there are five institutions that are now researching this aspect of alpaca and llama antibodies [and its potential against various diseases].'

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