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Llamas are Cute and They May Hold Secret to Produce HIV Vaccine, Cure AIDS

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Antibodies found in the immune system of Llamas may hold the secret to produce human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) vaccines and cure acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Researchers at the University College London (UCL) and Scripps Research Institute suggest that antibodies found in the South American animals are effective against many strains of HIV that kill over a million people each year.

Scientists admit that attempts to develop a medicine to cure AIDS have been disappointing. Current treatment does not cure AIDS, but relieves the symptoms and delays its progression.

Dr. Laura McCoy lead researcher of the study from UCL, reveals that the body of the llamas produces "neutralising antibodies," which is absent in the human body. The research team also included Professor Robin Weiss, an HIV expert, and llama antibody expert Theo Verrips.

The trio found that the combination of four antibodies present in llamas has the potential to destroy a number of HIV strains.

The researchers explain that each of the four antibodies aims at different parts of the virus and a combination of all four antibodies together makes it effective against HIV. A combination of these four antibodies was effective against 60 strains of HIV.

"This shows that immunisation can induce potent and broadly neutralising antibodies in llamas with features similar to human antibodies, and provide a framework to analyse the effectiveness of immunisation protocols," says McCoy.

Researchers suggest that it is not possible for humans to start producing the antibodies found in llamas. However, another option is to inject these antibodies in humans. Experts suggest that injecting these antibodies in humans may cause a reaction in humans and,therefoe, they have to be careful in evaluating the efficacy and safety of such procedures.

Scientists also suggest that a safe and possible way for llamas' antibodies injection in humans is by genetically altering them. Scientists can edit the genes to influence the way cells works in the human body.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that there are more than 1.2 million people in the country who have HIV. The agency also reveals that more than 168,000 people, or 14 percent of the total HIV patients in the U.S., are not aware that they are infected. Moreover, the CDC also reports that about 50,000 new cases of HIV are reported each year. Reports suggest that more than 33 million people are infected with the virus globally.

McCoy suggests that the study is important as it can help scientists to develop a vaccine for human HIV in the future.

The study has been published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

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