have you heard the one about the llama?

A COVID-19 research breakthrough out of a Texas university comes from unlikely source

COVID-19 antibody research coming out of the University of Texas stars an unlikely participant: A llama named Winter. University of Texas at Austin/Facebook

In the race to find a treatment for the novel coronavirus, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have announced a potential breakthrough — thanks to a llama.

Scientists from Texas' flagship university who have been collaborating with the National Institutes of Health and Ghent University in Belgium identified an antibody treatment that could potentially neutralize the virus that causes COVID-19.

The researchers detail their work in the May 5 edition of Cell, a scientific journal.

"This is one of the first antibodies known to neutralize SARS-CoV-2," said Jason McLellan, associate professor of molecular biosciences at UT Austin and co-senior author of the paper, in a release. (FYI, SARS-CoV-2 is referring to the virus that causes COVID-19.)

Using a Belgian llama named Winter, scientists were able to identify two antibodies the animal produces when it comes into contact with a foreign body (such as the coronavirus). The first is similar to a human antibody and the second is much smaller, about one-quarter of the size of the other.

This is Winter. Photo courtesy of University of Texas at Austin

Researchers were able to link two copies of this special llama antibody to create a new antibody. This new antibody binds tightly to a key protein on the coronavirus germ that causes COVID-19 and could possible be nebulized and put into an inhaler.

"That makes them potentially really interesting as a drug for a respiratory pathogen because you're delivering it right to the site of infection," said Daniel Wrapp, a UT graduate student in McLellan's lab and co-first author of the paper.

Unlike vaccines, which can take up to two months to take effect, antibody treatment can be used in more vulnerable populations as a way to fight off the virus.

"Vaccines have to be given a month or two before infection to provide protection," McLellan said. "With antibody therapies, you're directly giving somebody the protective antibodies and so, immediately after treatment, they should be protected. The antibodies could also be used to treat somebody who is already sick to lessen the severity of the disease."

From here, research turns to preclinical studies, using hamsters and primates for testing. If successful, they will move onto humans.

If you're wondering just how a group of researchers living in different parts of the globe were able to make this discovery seemingly overnight, that's because they've actually been working on it since 2016, when Winter was just 9 months old.

The experiment began as a way to develop vaccinations for two earlier versions of the coronavirus: SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV. Their years of research allowed the scientists to pivot in recent months to isolating the protein in COVID-19.

As for Winter, she's now 4 years old and still lives with about 130 llamas on a farm in Belgium, likely unaware of her contribution to potentially altering the course of COVID-19 forever.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Trending News

Building Houston

 
 

Why you should be offering your employees estate and legacy planning tools. Photo courtesy of The Postage

As priorities for employees have shifted as part of the Great Resignation the need for non-traditional benefits has continued to arise. Employees are expecting their personal and family wellness to be at the core of what their employers are offering. This is a big consideration when deciding to stay or leave a company. While HR professionals and employers are realizing they need to re-evaluate their benefits and how they keep top talent, there’s one key benefit that is typically missed that is a life necessity for all, estate and legacy planning.

Given today’s uber competitive talent market, there’s an opportunity for companies to embrace new benefits that go beyond the typical and support vital needs, such as financial wellness and estate planning. Taking the next step by providing and connecting employees with the right resources can make all the difference. Estate and legacy planning goes beyond creating a will, it’s about end to end care of life and legacy. It helps transition wealth and wisdom across generations. It handles your affairs, finances, your digital assets, protects your children and pets, and ensures your wishes are carried out if you are temporarily unavailable or permanently incapable of handling them. It’s as critical and as necessary as insurance yet is not typically included as a key employee benefit.

Why should you add estate and legacy planning as part of your employee benefits? Here’s the top three reasons to consider:

1. Create value for your employees and their families

Financial wellness and security are the utmost important for employees. In fact, it’s one of the most-valued benefits, based on a recent survey Morgan Stanley found that 90 percent of employees want their company to prioritize financial benefits. Are you going to be one of the 95 percent of HR executives that plan to do so? If so, there are multiple ways that a company can help its employees to build wealth and protect their financial security through traditional benefits such as retirement savings plans, health insurance, voluntary life, and disability insurance, and more. But additional benefits like estate and legacy planning should be a part of this assortment of benefits that support protecting employees and their families’ finances - by helping them build and protect their financial and personal legacies.

Employers can show that they value and support their employee’s financial success and security by providing tools and resources that make it simple to handle these historically daunting tasks and keep them organized throughout life, which allows employees to have peace of mind for their families’ future, financial and beyond.

2. Stand out among your competitors

Most employers do not provide legacy and estate planning services. Only 12 percent of employers provide these types of benefits, yet over 72 percent of those who are not offered estate planning services by their employer, would be interested in using them if offered. That’s a huge percentage of your employee population that would benefit from this service while differentiating you from other employers and provide an opportunity for your company to show just how much you value your employees’ futures.

3. Show you care about your employees

More people have begun to self-reflect on what is truly important to them as a part of the Great Resignation. Now, employee desires have evolved beyond a high salary with decent benefits. Employees want to feel valued beyond the work they do, and even further than that, they need an environment where their career, their loved ones, and their own being is supported. These psychological needs are translating into demands for companies to provide more thoughtful employee benefits packages.

A study conducted by Morgan Stanley shows how perceptions of employees and HR executives alike have transformed, with 9 in 10 HR executives saying their company needs to do a better job helping employees understand how to maximize their financial benefits. Proving to your employees that you care about them beyond the ‘now’beyond simply providing short-term benefits that exclusively affect them in the present day–leverages your company’s commitment to caring for your workers.

For people that struggle with organizing their property and wealth, estate planning can help visualize their total net worth. However, benefits that not only anticipate employees’ future financial needs but also organize their family network will drive continual engagement within your company and prove genuine care for your workers. For example, The Postage helps people plan their legacy. On top of estate planning, customers also have the ability to store and document important life events and memories, or even utilize our message planning feature where they can send timely notes to their family at a future date.

Employees want to feel valued beyond their work and taking the steps to help them build physical and financial legacies for both themselves and their loved ones will put your company one step ahead of everyone else. It is time for estate planning to join the conversation for employee benefits packages and helping employees proactively plan their future could be the cornerstone of attracting and retaining diverse talent.

------

Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.

Trending News