Last Night a Llama Saved My Life: Animal Antibodies Could Treat Cancer, Diabetes

By Melissa Lafsky | February 18, 2009 7:02 pm

llamaCould the next breakthrough in treatment for diseases from cancer to Alzheimer’s to rheumatoid arthritis lie with a four-legged, furry creature with a penchant for spitting and biting? Improbably, the answer is yes.

Scientists have discovered that the llama, a South American relative of the camel, possesses antibodies that are uniquely tiny—around 90 percent smaller, in fact, than the antibodies of humans. With these tiny sentinels guarding their immune systems, the fuzzy creatures are far better at targeting invading bacteria and viruses. Cue the medical researchers, who are pouncing on this newfound revelation to work on new and better treatments for a host of debilitating and/or fatal diseases.

As Popular Science points out, the mini-antibodies could also mean improvements in the delivery of vaccines (we could use inhalers rather than all those painful, messy, and potentially hazardous needles) and could save money in production costs, since the tinier antibodies can be grown using bacteria rather than the more expensive mammalian cells used to produce human antibodies.

Now if we could just find a way to do something about all that spitting…

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Image: iStockPhoto

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  • Carol Reigh

    I enjoyed your article on llamas and their very useful antibodies. I did, however, want to clear up the mistunderstanding about biting. Llamas have no upper teeth so even if they wanted to bite, it would be difficult. I will grant you that the males do have fighting teeth on the sides of their jaw. If raised properly, Llamas by nature are very gentle and don’t like to spit any more than we like to throw up but are forced into it when scared or startled. I might spit if I had to have a lot of needles stuck in me to get my anitibodies but then again, I am not as nice as a llama. thanks for writing the article; it was interesting.


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