News | December 26, 2014

Llamas Could Hold The Cure For HIV

By Suzanne Hodsden

A collaboration between the University College London (UCL) and the Scripps Research Institute has found antibodies in the immune systems of llamas, which have the potential to create a HIV vaccine, Tech Times reports.

Dr. Laura McCoy, the lead researcher from UCL, is developing the study with Robin Weiss, an HIV expert, and llama antibodies expert, Theo Verrips. Their team has isolated a combination of four antibodies in llamas, which are effective against over 60 strains of the HIV virus.

McCoy explains, “This shows that immunization can induce potent  and broadly neutralizing antibodies in llamas with features, similar to human antibodies, and provide a framework to analyze the effectiveness of immunization protocols.”

Unfortunately, the human body does not produce these specific four antibodies, and injecting llama antibodies directly into the human system presents a significant risk of severe side effects. However, researchers suggested that the antibodies could be genetically altered to make them safer for human use.

The immune systems of llamas have been the subject of interest for some time due to the unique and particularly durable structure of their antibodies.

Scientists from the Center for Bio/Molecular Science and Engineering at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory commented, “The ability to rapidly select such rugged antibodies will enhance the reliability of immunoassays by extending shelf life and the capacity to function in hostile environments.”

The WHO estimates that there are 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, and the progression of the virus into AIDS has claimed approximately 39 million lives.

HIV has flummoxed researchers all over the world due to its rate of change within the human system and the numerous mutations which have developed over the years since its discovery in 1981.

Since then, there have been some advances but more setbacks in the search for a cure. Only four vaccines have reached the clinical stage, and only one was proven to offer some protection against the virus, CNN reports.

This clinical trial, conducted in Thailand with over 16,000 volunteers, was the first to show any success, 31.2 percent.

John Mascola told CNN that this clinical trial changed the landscape of HIV/AIDS research and renewed the hopes of scientists everywhere that a cure was within reach. He remarked, “The field is energized.”