A Llama Could Save Your Life

Beasts' unusual immune systems offer benefits to humans

Llama

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Spitting, kicking and saving lives: all in a day's work for the lovable llama. Scientists have found that the uniquely small size of the llama's antibodies, used by the immune system to identify and counteract bacteria and viruses, could provide new and improved therapies for diseases including cancer, Alzheimer's, and diabetes.

South American llamas, along with their camel relatives, have something found in no other species. Their antibodies are about 90 percent smaller than the antibodies of humans, allowing the immune system fighters to better target invading bacteria and viruses. Drug developers plan to take advantage of these tiny but effective proteins to create better therapies for the world's diseases.

Utilizing the smaller antibodies can also improve delivery. Instead of injection, antibodies could be administered orally or by inhaler. The small antibodies could also save money: Currently, antibodies are grown using mammalian cells, which are expensive. The small antibodies could be produced using bacteria, thereby lowering production costs.

All hail the llama, the spitting superhero!

[Via the WSJ]