How llamas may help the fight against HIV

llama Image of llama from

Research has suggested that llamas may pack a powerful punch against HIV. This is because they not only have conventional heavy and light chain antibodies like those found in humans, they also have heavy chain-only antibodies as shown below.

Depiction of antibodies from Depiction of conventional antibody with heavy and light chains (left) and the heavy chain only antibody found in llamas (right). Figure from

These so-called "llama antibodies" are smaller than the conventional antibodies found in humans. This helps the antibodies bind more effectively to receptors in cells where the HIV virus lives. Researchers immunized llamas and then identified and isolated five different heavy chain only antibodies against HIV (variations in the VHH region; see above). They exposed isolated human cells that are susceptible to HIV infection to the antibodies and found that the antibodies that target the CD4-binding site of HIV were the most effective at preventing infection. A common problem in developing vaccines against HIV is that different antibodies will sometimes compete with and cancel out the effects of each other. This did not happen with the llama antibodies. In a quote from Healthline, lead study author Laura McCoy said, "The strongest neutralizing antibody always won." In fact, the study showed that application of llama antibodies were effective at neutralizing 60 different strains of HIV.

A potential problem with using antibodies produced in llamas is that humans may react against the antibodies. However, researchers suspect it may be possible to genetically edit the llama antibodies to make them more tolerable to humans. The hope of course is to create a vaccine against HIV that is well-tolerated and effective in humans.


McCoy LE, Rutten L, Frampton D, Anderson I, Granger L, et al. (2014) Molecular Evolution of Broadly Neutralizing Llama Antibodies to the CD4-Binding Site of HIV-1. PLoS Pathog 10(12): e1004552. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1004552

More like this

Once you are infected with HIV-1, you are screwed. Yes, we have antiretroviral therapies, but you will never be cured. You will never be free from the virus. And there is always a chance that the virus you are infected with will become resistant to the antiretroviral drugs used (this isnt just a…
Image by Keith Weller, USDA via Wikimedia Commons Researchers at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative at Scripps Research Institute have discovered that cows can produce antibodies that effectively neutralize HIV. Thus far, developing an effective vaccine for HIV has been hampered by the…
Llama, Llama glama. Image: source Researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington have discovered that llamas, a member of the camel family, have unusual antibodies in their blood that do not break down at high temperatures, unlike those of humans and most other animals. As a…
One of the holy grails of modern medicine is the development of a vaccine against HIV, the virus that causes AIDs. An obstacle to attaining this goal has been the difficulty in stimulating the immune system to make it produce the right kinds of antibodies. A recent finding in Science describes a…

Awesome. I cannot wait for HIV to join the chronic-disease-archives, in which we find the likes of Measles and Polio. :)

By Emmanuel Faleye (not verified) on 13 Feb 2015 #permalink

Amazing, I cannot wait for HIV to be finally conquered, it has claimed too much lives.

By Emmanuel Faleye (not verified) on 13 Feb 2015 #permalink

Heavenly Father help us to find cure to this demon that has taken lives. Especially of young innocent children

By Kelvin Maribinu (not verified) on 25 Feb 2015 #permalink

This is truly amazing, I think it would be so beneficial to the human race if they were able to use the information or Llama antibodies to create an antibody (that won't be rejected) possible to completely neutralize the HIV strains that affect the human body. as it has claimed way to many innocent lives. I would be very interested to know what progress has been made using this information?


By Taryn Rudling … (not verified) on 11 Mar 2015 #permalink

It would be a major breakthrough if Llama antibodies could become a potential source of curing HIV. However, at the moment there is not enough research to suggest a fully effective vaccine, at least the possibility is in reach.

By Tayla Rabie u1… (not verified) on 16 Mar 2015 #permalink

I would really love to know who thought of the idea to look at llamas antibodies and test them against the HIV virus? It is awesome to see such out of the box thinking and due to this type of thinking researchers are well on their way to finding a cure. Maybe now that they know this they can also look at other animal's antibodies and test them against the HIV virus too or even other viruses?

By Paige Derbyshire (not verified) on 28 Mar 2015 #permalink

I think this a major breakthrough. Very innovative. It is important that scientist follow up and genetically edit the llama antibodies, as mentioned above, in order to avoid rejection by human bodies. I would like to know if it would be possible to use this method to treat/prevent other diseases, such as Tuberculosis?


By Kunaal Kalyan … (not verified) on 11 Apr 2015 #permalink

I still wonder why we could not figure this out earlier, I mean, we can see around us that only humans get HIV, maybe not only humans but it is quite scarce to see another organism getting HIV, then we could just keep comparing these organims' genes and antibodies to ours to find a cure. I hope it is that simple to get a cure thoughew...

By Emmanuel Faleye (not verified) on 11 Apr 2015 #permalink

This is an amazing prospect, to be able to use genetically modified Llama antibodies to help prevent the AIDS virus from effecting cells would be a huge step forward in reducing the spread of this pandemic and combating the serious consequences that have risen from this virus. For many countries all over the world it could potentially reverse the economic and social problems as a result of AIDS effecting their populations. It will be interesting to see how far this initiative will be able to progress. Will the FDA approve a vaccine of such a nature? Maybe in a few years time we will be able to vaccinate people against AIDS. (u15008682)

By Gina (u15008682) (not verified) on 17 Apr 2015 #permalink