In a first, scientists have produced human antibodies in the laboratory using a technique that could usher the rapid development of new vaccines to treat a wide range of infectious diseases.
Antibodies are produced by the body’s Beta cells to fight off infections by bacteria, viruses, and other invasive pathogens. When an individual B cell recognises a specific pathogen-derived “antigen” molecule, it can proliferate and develop into plasma cells that secrete large amounts of the antibody capable of binding to the antigen and fending off the infection.
About the new technique:
In addition to encountering a specific antigen, B cells need a second signal to start proliferating and developing into plasma cells. Researchers provided this second signal by short DNA fragments called CpG oligonucleotides, which activate a protein inside B cells named TLR9.
However, treating patient-derived B cells with CpG oligonucleotides stimulates every B cell in the sample, not just the tiny fraction capable of producing a particular antibody. Researchers produced specific human antibodies in the laboratory by treating patient-derived B cells with tiny nanoparticles coated with both CpG oligonucleotides and an antigen.
With this technique, CpG oligonucleotides are only internalised into B cells that recognise the specific antigen, and these cells are therefore the only ones in which TLR9 is activated to induce their proliferation and development into antibody-secreting plasma cells.
This approach will help researchers rapidly generate therapeutic antibodies for the treatment of infectious diseases and other conditions such as cancer. Specifically, it should allow the production of these antibodies within a shorter time frame in vitro and without the need for vaccination or blood/serum donation from recently infected or vaccinated individuals.
This method also offers the potential to accelerate the development of new vaccines by allowing the efficient evaluation of candidate target antigens.