Llama Nanobodies Could be a Powerful Weapon Against COVID-19, According to Preclinical Research at University of Pittsburgh

Llama Nanobodies Could be a Powerful Weapon Against COVID-19

Today in Science, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine describe a new method to extract tiny but extremely powerful SARS-CoV-2 antibody fragments from llamas, which could be fashioned into inhalable therapeutics with the potential to prevent and treat COVID-19.

These special llama antibodies, called “nanobodies,” are much smaller than human antibodies and many times more effective at neutralizing the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They’re also much more stable. 

“Nature is our best inventor,” said senior author Yi Shi, assistant professor of cell biology at Pitt. “The technology we developed surveys SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing nanobodies at an unprecedented scale, which allowed us to quickly discover thousands of nanobodies with unrivaled affinity and specificity.”

To generate these nanobodies, Shi turned to a black llama named Wally—who resembles and therefore shares his moniker with Shi’s black Labrador.

Shi and colleagues immunized the llama with a piece of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and, after about two months, the animal’s immune system produced mature nanobodies against the virus.

Using a mass spectrometry-based technique that Sh...

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