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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Can the Covid cure be found in camels? Qatar scientists to find out

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Researchers believe that the cure to COVID-19 could be found in one-humped camels.

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine — Qatar [WCM-Q] believe that camels could be a source for the cure to the coronavirus pandemic, as the furry desert animals may have antibodies, the institution announced on Tuesday.

According to Dr. Lotfi Chouchane, Professor of Genetics Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology at WCM-Q, dromedary camels can produce large quantities of nanobodies, possibly more than conventional amounts produced.

In a study published by the researchers on JCI Insight, “the strong antibody response observed in dromedaries could be caused by repeated exposure to the virus”.

“However, some studies have attributed this response to a characteristic of dromedaries (17-19), which produce relatively unique heavy homodimeric chain-only antibodies, as well as conventional heterotetrameric antibodies,” added the study.

The study also noted that the antigen-binding region of said “homodimeric heavy chain-only antibodies consist of one single domain” [VHH], which “contain more advantages” over the typical, full-sized antibodies.

“These advantages include high specificity, stability, and solubility, as well as a small size, which allows them to recognise unusual antigenic sites and to deeply penetrate tissues. Since their discovery, VHHs have been extensively used in diagnostics and therapies (20-23),” the study stated.

Read also: Qatar approves Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Commenting on the Middle East respiratory syndrome [MERS], which was believed to be originate from dromedaries, Dr. Chouchane stated that while it is easy to find antibodies to the said virus in the camels, it is still rare to find one that is suffering from the disease itself.

“So it appears that the dromedary camel’s immune system is able to overcome the infection quickly. Our hypothesis stems from the similarities between the two viruses that cause MERS Respiratory system and COVID-19, which makes us wonder about the possibility that Middle East respiratory syndrome antibodies are also effective against Covid-19 virus,” he told Al Jazeera.

The research – supported by WCM-Q, the Qatar National Research Fund, and the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Municipality and Environment in Qatar – used samples of camels dating back to before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic as well as after the spread of the disease.

Due to the similarities between MERS and COVID-19, the findings of the research can help find treatment for both diseases as well as different strains and future coronaviruses belonging to the same subfamily.

“If we look at the antibodies produced by dromedary camels, we find that they are very similar in structure to that produced by the human body, so we do not expect a negative immune response to treatment, because of the transfer of antibodies from one type to another, “added Dr. Chouchane.

Regarding the possibility of the use of the antibody treatment as an alternative to the vaccine, Dr. Chouchane said that the latter will not be replaced.

“The vaccines are primarily aimed at limiting the spread of the virus, not treating people with the disease,” he said.


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