Researchers from Australia’s nuclear science agency have revealed that the unique immune system of alpacas could hold the key to coronavirus breakthroughs.
The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) said on Tuesday that they are studying alpaca antibodies in the search for therapies for COVID-19.
By immunising alpacas with the spike protein from SARS-CoV-2, researchers have been able to isolate nanobodies and screen them for the ability to inhibit the virus.
They have then been able to use the Microfocus Crystallography (MX2) Beamline at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron to study how an alpaca’s immune system can fight infection by COVID-19.
Michael James, ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron senior principal research scientist, said the Synchrotron, a type of particle accelerator, had also been used to study human proteins responsible for the replication of the virus within cells and the structure of the virus that causes COVID-19.
“Since March, we’ve been operating a COVID-19 Rapid Access program to enable Australian and international researchers to solve the atomic structure of SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins,’’ he said in a statement.
“We’re looking at proteins either by themselves or bound to other biological molecules or anti-viral drugs that can help fight the virus or prevent its spread.
“In this instance, MX2 is being used to determine the structure of these inhibitory nanobodies in complex with the key region of the spike protein to understand the structural mechanism of inhibition,’’ James said.
“These structures will provide invaluable information that will allow further development of antibody therapies against COVID-19.’’