Scientists have produced human antibodies in the laboratory for the first time using a technique that can lead to rapid development of new vaccines to treat a wide range of infectious diseases.
What is an antibody?
Antibodies are produced by the body’s B cells to fight off infections by bacteria, viruses, and other invasive pathogens.
- When an individual B cell recognises a specific pathogen-derived “antigen” molecule, it can proliferate and develop into plasma cells that secrete large amounts of antibody capable of binding to the antigen and fending off the infection.
- In addition to encountering a specific antigen, B cells need a second signal to start proliferating and developing into plasma cells. This second signal can be provided by short DNA fragments called CpG oligonucleotides, which activate a protein inside B cells named TLR9.
Details about Technique that led to producing antibodies in the laboratory:
Researchers, led by Facundo Batista from the Francis Crick Institute in the UK, produced specific human antibodies in the laboratory by treating patient-derived B cells with tiny nanoparticles coated with both CpG oligonucleotides and an antigen.
- With this technique, CpG oligonucleotides were only internalised into B cells that recognise the specific antigen, and these cells are therefore the only ones in which TLR9 is activated to induce their proliferation and development into antibody-secreting plasma cells.
- The team successfully demonstrated their approach using various bacterial and viral antigens, including the tetanus toxoid and proteins from several strains of influenza A.
- In each case, high-affinity antibodies were produced in just a few days.
- Some of the anti-influenza antibodies generated by the technique recognised multiple strains of the virus and were able to neutralise its ability to infect cells.
- Researchers were even able to generate anti-HIV antibodies from B cells isolated from HIV-free patients.