Monday, June 28, 2010

plastic antibodies?

The Scientist | Antibodies are the main ingredient in a wide range of biopharmaceuticals, but making them is no picnic. Now, chemists have good evidence there may be an easier way: plastic.

Currently, in order to manufacture antibodies, mice (or other live animals) are injected with a foreign antigen over several weeks, stimulating B cells in the bloodstream to produce antibodies. Those B cells must then be harvested from the mouse's spleen and transferred to a bioreactor where they are often fused with another cell type, like immortal tumor cells, that allows them to replicate and survive outside the animal. The cultured cells then produce the antibody. If the antibody is for human use, at some point it must be humanized -- modified through recombinant DNA technology to resemble natural human antibodies. The process is long, difficult, and expensive.

But what if a substance introduced years ago as a cheap, durable replacement for natural materials could replace yet another one of nature's materials?

In a landmark paper published earlier this month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, synthetic chemists at the University of California, Irvine, report the first successful use of a plastic antibody in vivo. The synthetic counterpart seems to work just like a natural antibody, binding and neutralizing a toxin in the bloodstream. Such molecules could someday make a splash in the clinic as well as in pharmaceutical and biotech companies for protein purification and diagnostic applications, scientists believe.