Scientists look to alpacas in efforts against COVID-19

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Alpacas now join the long list of animals that researchers have enlisted to help combat the coronavirus. 

Alpacas have a special type of antibody, known as a nanobody, that scientists believe could be used as a potential treatment for COVID-19. 

Nanobodies are the camelid equivalent to human immune system antibodies. However, nanobodies are smaller in structure and are more stable than human antibodies, researchers from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine said in a news release

Alpacas, along with camels and llamas, are classified as camelids.

Their immune-fighting function, coupled with their smaller structure, make nanobodies ideal for diffusing through the alveoli — the tiny air sacs of the lungs that are targeted by the coronavirus. 

“The idea is that nanobodies are small enough to access small pockets on SARS-CoV-2’s spike proteins, which is part of the virus that attaches to host cells,” Dr. Sidney Whiteheart, who is co-leading the study, said in a statement. “A nanobody that could block the binding of the spike protein to its cellular receptor could be an effective treatment for COVID-19.”

As of now, three alpacas have been injected with COVID-19 proteins and developed immunity. Scientists have since collected blood samples from the animals — blood now containing newly created nanobodies against the coronavirus. The goal is to further extract, test and research the nanobodies in hopes of discovering therapeutic treatments.