Human Antibody Research Advances

In simplest terms, an antibody is a substance created by the immune system in order to fight off invasion from alien material or toxin, such as a virus or bacterium. Such invaders, called antigens, attract specific antibodies, which in turn bind to them, creating a beacon of sorts to the rest of the immune system, so that the invader can be destroyed. Therefore, antibodies are essential in our fight against infection and disease.

Antibody research began in the 1890ís and continues today. In the hundred and twenty years since two early researchers suggested something in the blood serum worked against foreign invaders, research has told us what antibodies are made of, where they are created and how they are attracted to their specific antigen, as well as given us ways in which we can use that knowledge to save lives.

From previous research, we know that the detection of specific antibodies can indicate whether someone has a specific illness. Antibody tests have been developed to indicate cirrhosis of the liver, Lyme Disease and a host of autoimmune diseases. Antibodies are also used in some pregnancy tests.

Initial antibody response is slow, only producing a few antibodies, but should the same antigen reappear in the body, the response is rapid and massive. This rapid response is how we become immune to disease; it is also one way we can be immunized against disease. Science has learned that injecting antigens into a living host, such as a rat, rabbit, goat, chicken, or human, will cause the host to create antibodies for that antigen, provided the hostís immune system is working properly.

When the hostís blood is drawn, the antibodies are present; scientists can use that blood to create antiserum to cure the illness in others. Additionally, injecting someone with a weak or dead version of a virus may trigger the slow response production of antibodies that will protect the host against a full-blown attack of that virus. Additional research has lead to the ability to genetically alter mouse antibodies for use in humans. Use of antibodies to prevent, and cure disease by artificial means is called antibody therapy.

As well as creating antiserum, research has taught scientists how to create large amounts of antibodies in a relatively short time. The cloning of a single b cell, from which antibodies are made, and combining it with a rapidly growing cell, such as a cancer cell, produces what is called a monoclonal antibody.

In recent years, research into antibody therapy in general and monoclonal antibody therapy in particular has lead to some incredible discoveries. Antibody therapies are used in several types of cancer treatments, as well as in treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Current antibody research indicates it may soon have treatments for avian and other deadly flu types, along with the potential cures for hepatitis C and HIV.

In 2009, other research indicated antibody therapy may prevent the spread of the deadly Nipah and Hendra viruses, and in July of 2010, researchers identified two new antibodies, which keep many of the strains of HIV from infecting people.

Human antibody research advances in the last one hundred and twenty years have made it possible for doctors to save countless lives, and prevent the spread of disease in ways those early researchers could have only dreamed. One can only wonder what researcherís dream may be realized tomorrow.