Llamas may prove useful in coronavirus treatment search

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Studies in llama immunizations may prove useful in the search for a coronavirus treatment, reports say.

Scientists in the U.S. and Belgium safely immunized a llama, named Winter, with SARS and MERS viruses. The study reportedly began several years ago with the original intent to fight off those viruses.

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"The work was a side project in 2016. We thought maybe this was interesting,” Xavier Saelens, joint leader of the Belgian part of the collaboration, told Reuters. “Then the new virus came and it became potentially more crucial, more important.”

Team members are based in the University of Texas at Austin and the VIB-UGent Center for Medical Biotechnolgy in Belgium and the National Institutes of Health' Vaccine Research Center in Maryland.

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Camelids, like llamas, camels and alpacas, produce unique antibodies. When their immune systems detect a harmful, foreign substance, it produces antibodies and a smaller subset, about one-tenth of the size, called nanobodies.

Scientists have an easier time studying nanobodies given their smaller size. In the novel coronavirus, antibodies may recognize and attach to its spike proteins to fight the virus.

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The team of researchers intends on further animal testing with human trials later this year, according to Reuters.

The full report was published in the journal Cell on May 5.