Assisting Covid research

Assisting Covid research
Alpacas at Bairnsdale have sprung to national fame lately, involved in research that may help in the fight against COVID-19.
Bairnsdale researcher and veterinarian, Andrew Padula, previously the owner of the Bairnsdale Animal Hospital, is facilitating the animal side of the research for the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.
After recent media reports, Dr Padula stresses there is no harm to the alpacas nor is there any risk to humans.
"The alpacas do not develop COVID-19, it?s not suspended in their blood, there is no COVID-19 involved," Dr Padula said.
"The alpacas are completely unaware they may be solving one of the problems to do with the virus," he said.
"I'm happy to be a part of a potential solution to this, even if it saved one life it would be well worth it."
Alpacas make a unique type of immune response, creating two  types of antibodies, one similar to humans and the other so small they are known as nanobodies.
Earlier in the year, Dr Padula injected the alpacas with tiny doses of synthetically made proteins to create that response. Later on, blood was harvested which included the genetic material from the white blood cells.
"We're not harvesting antibodies, we're harvesting white blood cells which contain ribonucleic acid (RNA) that codes for the antibodies," he said.
"Once we have that code, we can make it in the laboratory."
The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute is working on many projects to do with COVID-19 but in this instance, the research involves a treatment that can be used to help people infected with COVID-19.
"It's an anti-serum used to dull the symptoms of the virus down," Dr Padula said. 
"If you had a decent dose of the virus, within 24 hours of an injection of this and it could potentially stop you developing severe symptoms, particularly if you had complications."
He said the technology had been used for years and had recently been adapted for COVID-19 proteins.
In an article by the ABC, Australian Synchrotron senior principal scientist, Michael James, was quoted likening the serum to glue. 
"We've all seen the pictures of the SARS-COVID virus, the spiky bit on the outside is called the viral spike proteins," Dr James said.
"They are the bit that helps the virus infect our cells. 
"If our cells are something like a lock, and the viral spike protein is a key, that's how the virus gets into our cells, by unlocking a path into our cells," he said.
"With the nanobody from the alpaca, you can basically think of it as araldite so that it will gum up the lock, so that the key can't get into the lock, and the virus can't get into our cells."

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