WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- A new flu antibody is developed utilizing antibodies synthesized from llama blood.
- This antibody can be a possible Holy Grail which can work across many influenza strains.
- The new gene therapy approach to treating influenza also works in the elderly.
U.S. scientists have developed a new flu treatment employing the aid of llamas. This new antibody therapy produced by the llamas has the potential to work against all types of flu.
Each winter, a new flu jab is needed due to the ultimate shape-shifting capabilities of the influenza virus. With the constant mutation of influenza, the virus invades our immune system. This capability of the flu also results in vaccines sometimes missing their mark.
In the hunt for a way of killing all types of flu no matter the strain or mutation capabilities, scientists turned to the llama which produces incredibly tiny antibodies compared to our own.
Antibodies are produced by the immune system to combat the virus by binding to the proteins sticking out of the virus’ surface. Human antibodies have the tendency to attack the protein tips in the virus but influenza is capable of mutating these parts readily. Llama antibodies are different. Due to their size advantage, the antibodies can wriggle a little bit deeper inside the virus and attack parts that flu cannot mutate.
In the tests conducted on mice, Prof. Ian Wilson told BBC Science in Action that out of the 60 different viruses used in the challenge, only one wasn’t neutralized and this one virus doesn’t infect humans. Wilson adds that the goal is providing something that would work from season to season, and also consider protection from possible pandemics should they emerge.
“Having a treatment that can work across a range of different strains of virus is highly sought after. It’s the Holy Grail of influenza,” Prof Jonathan Ball, from the University of Nottingham, told the BBC.
The work, which was published in the journal Science, tried two approaches to giving the animals the antibody. First was through injection and another was through a type of gene therapy. The second approach has an additional advantage to the elderly. As a person gets older, the immune system weakens which also makes the seasonal flu vaccine less effective. The llama-inspired approach does not need to train the immune system.