Advances In Immunology—monoclonal Antibody Technology
Substances foreign to the body, such as diseasecausing bacteria, viruses, and other infectious agents (known as antigens), are recognized by the body's immune system as invaders. The body's natural defenses against these infectious agents are antibodies—proteins that seek out the antigens and help destroy them. Antibodies have two very useful characteristics. First, they are extremely specific; that is, each antibody binds to and attacks one particular antigen. Second, some antibodies, once activated by the occurrence of a disease, continue to confer resistance against that disease; classic examples are the antibodies to the childhood diseases chickenpox and measles.
The second characteristic of antibodies makes it possible to develop vaccines. A vaccine is a preparation of killed or weakened bacteria or viruses that, when introduced into the body, stimulates the production of antibodies against the antigens it contains.
It is the first trait of antibodies, their specificity, that makes monoclonal antibody technology so valuable. Not only can antibodies be used therapeutically, to protect against disease; they can also help to diagnose a wide variety of illnesses, and can detect the presence of drugs, viral and bacterial products, and other unusual or abnormal substances in the blood.
Given such a diversity of uses for these diseasefighting substances, their production in pure quantities has long been the focus of scientific investigation. The conventional method was to inject a laboratory animal with an antigen and then, after antibodies had been formed, collect those antibodies from the blood serum (antibody-containing blood serum is called antiserum). There are two problems with this method: It yields antiserum that contains undesired substances, and it provides a very small amount of usable antibody.
Monoclonal antibody technology allows the production of large amounts of pure antibodies in the following way. Cells that produce antibodies naturally are obtained along with a class of cells that can grow continually in cell culture. The hybrid resulting from combining cells with the characteristic of "immortality" and those with the ability to produce the desired substance, creates, in effect, a factory to produce antibodies that works around the clock.
A myeloma is a tumor of the bone marrow that can be adapted to grow permanently in cell culture. Fusing myeloma cells with antibody-producing mammalian spleen cells, results in hybrid cells, or hybridomas, producing large amounts of monoclonal antibodies. This product of cell fusion combined the desired qualities of the two different types of cells: the ability to grow continually, and the ability to produce large amounts of pure antibody. Because selected hybrid cells produce only one specific antibody, they are more pure than the polyclonal antibodies produced by conventional techniques. They are potentially more effective than conventional drugs in fighting disease, since drugs attack not only the foreign substance but the body's own cells as well, sometimes producing undesirable side effects such as nausea and allergic reactions. Monoclonal antibodies attack the target molecule and only the target molecule, with no or greatly diminished side effects.
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