In what could possibly lead to a major breakthrough in world health, a team of international scientists are studying alpacas and llamas to find a cure for AIDS/HIV.
Researchers and experts from institutions that include the University College London, Harvard Medical School, and the Center of Animal Virology located in Argentina recently published a study in the PLOS Pathogens magazine in December. After injecting three llamas with the AIDS virus they extracted their blood and the team analyzed the antibodies present. What they discovered could change the lives of millions.
One of the llama antibodies they found “potentially neutralizes more than 95 percent of HIV strains.” Additionally, alpacas share the same neutralizing capability.
Eduardo Gotuzzo, director of the Alexander von Humbolt Institute of Tropical Medicine located in Peru, cautions that there is still a long way to go before any patients can expect to benefit from these findings. He commented that “It [the study] has only been carried out with three llamas so far, and the effect has only been seen in vitro.” In other words, the effects were only obtained in a lab using cells that were taken from a living animal. Replicating such findings in a way that benefits modern medicine will require extensive amounts of further research.
Gotuzzo continues: “So, there is a long way to go before we can really see how significant this is, but it is certainly a very interesting discovery…It is an open door, and here in Peru there are five institutions that are now researching this aspect of alpaca and llama antibodies [and its potential against various diseases].”
None of the alpacas or llamas were harmed in the research for this study. The amount of AIDS virus they were injected with was not enough for them to fully contract the disease.
Peru boasts 90% of the world’s alpaca population. Alpacas, llamas and vicuñas are all valued highly in Peru and fill important roles both culturally and economically.