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Infectious disease

Llama antibodies may spell human flu treatments

Researchers engineer broad-acting antibodies to fight multiple types of flu

by Megha Satyanarayana
November 3, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 44

 

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Credit: Shutterstock
A treatment based on Llama antibodies could be effective against many types of human flu.

An international group of humans have teamed up with a South American camelid to try to build a better flu treatment. The research team, led by Ian A. Wilson of Scripps Research, California, and Joost A. Kolkman of Janssen Pharmaceutica, engineered antibodies extracted from llamas that were immunized against flu viruses. The antibodies are broadly neutralizing, meaning they can attack different strains of influenza A and B based on common domains in a viral surface protein called hemaglutinin, Wilson says. The engineered antibodies contain broadly reactive binding domains from different antibodies stitched together. But why llamas? Their antibodies could be more effective in attacking flu viruses in humans than humans’ own antibodies are, Wilson says, because they are smaller than our antibodies and may fit into tight recesses on the surface of the flu virus, accessing regions that our antibodies may not be able to. The work is still in early stages, Wilson says, but when the team tested the treatment in mice exposed to the flu, the artificial antibodies increased the animals’ survival rates over animals not treated with the antibodies. The team is now evaluating how best to deliver the antibodies—either intranasally or through the type of machinery used in gene therapy, in which cells in the body get coopted to make the antibody when it’s needed.

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