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Looking to Llamas for New Ways to Fight the Flu

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Lllama nanobodiesResearchers are making tremendous strides toward developing better ways to reduce our risk of getting the flu. And one of the latest ideas for foiling the flu—a “gene mist” that could be sprayed into the nose—comes from a most surprising source: llamas.

Like humans and many other creatures, these fuzzy South American relatives of the camel produce immune molecules, called antibodies, in their blood when exposed to viruses and other foreign substances. Researchers speculated that because the llama’s antibodies are so much smaller than human antibodies, they might be easier to use therapeutically in fending off a wide range of flu viruses. This idea is now being leveraged to design a new type of gene therapy that may someday provide humans with broader protection against the flu [1].

NIH Research Festival

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Francis Collins holding a flu virus model

I had the pleasure of providing the opening remarks at the 32nd NIH Research Festival back on September 12, 2018. In my right hand is a  model of the flu virus. I’m posting this photo belatedly as a gentle reminder: Remember to get your flu shot this year. Credit: NIH