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The llama outbreak at Courtyard festival

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Researchers from the i-sense Llama Outbreak Control Unit were back again this year at Courtyard in Kings Cross, Green Man’s Welsh beer and cider festival, to track a strange disease spreading across London.

What is Llama Outbreak?

First seen in Wales during the 2016 Green Man Festival, Llama Outbreak! is a live game that aims to simulate the spread of an infectious disease throughout a festival. The project was produced by Einstein’s Garden, in collaboration with researchers from i-sense at the University College London (UCL) and funded by a Wellcome Trust Society Award.

Researchers tracked the spread of the infection throughout the festival, explained the nanotechnology used in the diagnostic test, talked to festival-goers about the ethics of sharing health data, and explained how llama nanobodies are used in rapid diagnostic test.

Why are llamas important?

Llamas and their relatives (camels and alpacas) are helping us diagnose infectious diseases.

Back in the 1980s, some students who were doing experiments on camel blood, accidentally discovered their unusual immune system. They discovered that their antibodies (the main part of their immune system) are much smaller than ours and are more easily made into nanobodies (antibody fragments) that can then get into the nooks and crannies of viruses.

Researchers at UCL and i-sense are now getting help from llamas to develop tests for infectious diseases like HIV and the flu, making these tests very accurate.

The power of technology

Researchers at the festival used a mobile phone app to read test results from festival-goers. The demonstration showed people how technologies they use everyday could help us diagnose an infectious disease outbreak earlier than is currently possible.