Antibodies from desert as guides to diseased cells

Jun 14, 2014

By Science Daily


The use of nanoparticles in cancer research is considered as a promising approach in detecting and fighting tumor cells. The method has, however, often failed because the human immune system recognizes the particles as foreign objects and rejects them before they can fulfil their function. Researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and at University College Dublin in Ireland have, along with other partners, developed nanoparticles that not only bypass the body’s defense system, but also find their way to the diseased cells. This procedure uses fragments from a particular type of antibody that only occurs in camels and llamas. The small particles were even successful under conditions which are very similar to the situation within potential patients’ bodies.

Describing the current state of research, Dr. Kristof Zarschler of the Helmholtz Virtual Institute NanoTracking at the HZDR explains, “At the moment we must overcome three challenges. First, we need to produce the smallest possible nanoparticles. We then need to modify their surface in a way that the proteins in the human bodies do not envelop them, which would thus render them ineffective. In order to ensure, that the particles do their job, we must also somehow program them to find the diseased cells.” Therefore, the Dresden and Dublin researchers combined expertise to develop nanoparticles made of silicon dioxide with fragments of camel antibodies.

In contrast to conventional antibodies, which consist of two light and two heavy protein chains, those taken from camels and llamas are less complex and are made up of only two heavy chains. “Due to this simplified structure, they are easier to produce than normal antibodies,” explains Zarschler. “We also only need one particular fragment — the portion of the molecule that binds to certain cancer cells — which makes the production of much smaller nanoparticles possible.” By modifying the surface of the nanoparticle, it also gets more difficult for the immune system to recognize the foreign material, which allows the nanoparticles to actually reach their target.


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