Llama Nanobodies – A Possible Cure for COVID-19

A 3D printed model of llama nanobodies
A 3D printed model of Llama Nanobodies. Credit: UPMC

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have extracted antibodies from llamas with the potential to possibly treat and prevent COVID-19.

Generally, in humans, antibodies are produced in response to foreign organisms such as viruses. These antibodies not only neutralize the virus but can also prevent future infections. Nanobodies, as the name suggests, are very small antibodies obtained from llamas. In this particular case, from Wally the llama. 

Nature is our best inventor. The technology we developed surveys SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing nanobodies at an unprecedented scale, which allowed us to quickly discover thousands of nanobodies with unrivaled affinity and specificity.

Dr. Yi Shi, Ph.D., senior author

Nanobodies From Wally the Llama

First, the team of researchers injected Wally with SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Then, approximately two months later, they took blood samples from the animal. The researchers identified these nanobodies using a newly developed spectrometry-based technique. This allowed for the large-scale discovery of the lama nanobodies with greater precision. 

While working with the Center for Vaccine Research at the University of Pittsburgh, the scientists discovered the nanobodies to be more effective than human antibodies. Furthermore, unlike conventional antibodies, llama nanobodies can be used as an inhalant. Thus, reaching the affected lungs faster and more efficiently. 

A Possible Treatment for the Pandemic

Nanobodies serve the same purpose as human monoclonal antibodies. However, they are much more cost-effective and potent. Furthermore, these antibodies can remain stable at room temperature for up to six weeks. 

Nanobodies could potentially cost much less. They’re ideal for addressing the urgency and magnitude of the current crisis

Dr. Yi Shi, Ph.D., senior author

While working with researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the team discovered the mechanisms through which the nanobodies block a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

As the world surpasses 50 million cases of COVID-19, the need for a potential cure is more urgent than ever. Researchers hope the findings of their study will help control the current pandemic and prevent any more in the future.


Xiang, Yufei, et al. Versatile and multivalent nanobodies efficiently neutralize SARS-CoV-2. Science, 2020; eabe4747 DOI: 10.1126/science.abe4747


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