Antibodies occur naturally in our bodies, having naturally evolved to recognize and kill antigens that cause disease. They are the human bodies natural defence against pathogens and work tirelessly to keep us healthy.
Previously, antibody research has focused on two main productions of antibodies. The first is triggered by the injection of an antigen into mammals. The blood from the mammal contains polyclonal antibodies that bind to epitopes on the antigen.
The second method of antibody production that has been examined has been the isolation of an animal’s antibody-secreting lymphocyte. By isolating the lymphocyte and fusing them with a cancer cell line, researchers have been able to generate technologically produced monoclonal antibodies.
Now, in 2019, there is another avenue of antibody research gaining traction that could have significant ramifications on the way we treat diseases; functional antibodies.
What are functional grade antibodies?
Functional antibodies, either displaying agonist or antagonist activity, have been created to mimic or block natural physiological functions taking place inside the body. These antibodies are preservative-free and have been tested to activate the body’s antibody production, neutralize or block physiological functions when administered in vitro or in vivo.
Four specific antibody functions Functional antibodies have been developed to perform one of four specific functions:
In their natural form, neutralizing antibodies defend cells from antigens and pathogens by neutralizing the natural effects of the pathogen.
Functional antibodies serve the same function.
For example, the ZIKV E Protein Neutralizing Antibody has been designed to combat the Zika virus. It recognizes and binds to the Zika Virus envelope protein and neutralizes the effects of the pathogen.
Blocking antibodies bind to antigens and prevent other antibodies or antigens from reacting or combining with the antigen. Their use in cancer treatment, malaria treatments and in patients suffering from Graves’ disease has already been explored with successful outcomes.
One of the key areas of research in functional grade antibodies is the development of detection antibodies. These detect invasive pathogens and antigens that require deletion, blocking and elimination.
In the activation process, the Fabs bind to the antigen, releasing signalling cascades that cause the depletion and eventual cell death of the antigen.
The Implications for Treatment in 2019
The implications of functional antibody research will be far-reaching. In particular, the research underway could revolutionize cancer treatments and bypass the need for toxic chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is currently employed for its efficacy at preventing cells from rapidly dividing.
However, it is toxic and a dose required to kill off a large tumour would likely be fatal. Functional antibodies could hold the key to delivering treatment more efficiently and treating the disease more smartly.
Antibodies that could effectively detect the difference between cancer cells and healthy cells and administer drugs to the cancerous cells would make cancer treatments much safer. Through functional antibodies, researchers have been able to develop detection antibodies that can identify cancerous cells from the cell’s surface, but in its current form, much of the drugs used to destroy the cancerous cells are being lost en-route to the cells and end up in the bloodstream.
As research progresses and the field of functional antibodies continues to make breakthroughs, treatments for a variety of previously untreatable diseases and cancers could become available. In 2019, the medical community stands on the precipice of discovery, ready to leap.