Llama Blood Could Be the Key to an Effective Flu Vaccine

Flu shots might be getting a bit cozier and cuter now that llamas, the fluffy, hardworking pack animals, may hold the key to flu prevention. A new study has found that antibodies in the animals’ blood are effective at preventing various strains of flu in mice. Before a new vaccine can be launched, however, the research needs to be replicated in humans.

According to the study published in Science, scientists have developed an effective nasal spray derived from the llama antibodies. Scientists have been testing it in mice and, so far, the llama antibodies seem to guard against influenza more effectively than our own antibodies can, and human antibodies are the ones currently used in vaccines.

The Basic Biology

Antibodies are proteins produced by the body when the immune system recognizes a bacteria or virus in the blood. Once identified, the antibodies get to work neutralizing the intruder and preventing illness.

Animal and human antibodies work the same way. But what makes the llama antibodies unique is their size and shape: They are smaller and straighter than human antibodies. As a result, they can reach parts of viruses that human antibodies can’t, and thus, the llama antibodies fight the viruses more effectively.


From The Lab

For this study, the researchers extracted four different antibodies from the llamas’ blood: two for influenza A and two for influenza B. The researchers combined them in a nasal spray and gave it to a group of mice, while another group of mice received a placebo.

The researchers then infected the mice with lethal influenza strains. All of the mice that received high doses of the spray survived, while the entire group of mice that received a placebo died.

The research is promising and it could be great news for future flu seasons. However, it’s not going to change your prognosis this season. There’s still extensive research to come to see if the combination works in humans.

What do you think of this new development in flu prevention?