Flu: Are Llamas The Answer?
As the annual flu season approaches, many of us get vaccinated against prevalent strains of influenza, identified from the southern hemisphere's winter. Flu is caused by a virus that has the ability to mutuate quickly, regularly leading to new strains and the possibility of outbreaks each year.
What flu researchers are hoping for is a vaccination that could combat all strains of the virus, to reduce, or even eliminate, the need for yearly vaccinations. Up until now, such a solution has proved elusive, but recent research published in Science suggests the answer could lie with llamas!
Whilst humans produce large antibodies that attack flu anitgens directly, llamas produce much smaller antibodies that target harder to reach areas of the virus. Areas that don't mutate regularly.
Researchers at the Scripps Institute in California examined the numerous anitibodies present in llama blood, finding four that could potentially fight flu in humans. These four anitbodies were effective on all but one of the sixty variations of flu they were tested on.
Yet what's especially interesting about the research, is its possible application. The research suggests that an effective delivery method could use gene therapy. This would be particuarly beneficial for the elderly, as traditional vaccinations become less effective as the efficiency of the immune system declines. The use of gene therapy could mean targeted cells can immediately produce the desired antibodies of their own accord.
Whilst the initial results are encouraging, the study is still ongoing. If upcoming human trials are successful, then the goal of producing a vaccine that would be effective for multiple seasons, might not be so far off. But as research continues, the questions remains are we doing enough to protect the most vulnerable in society, from what can be a deadly illness.