What are monoclonal antibodies?


Developed more than three decades ago but gaining new currency thanks to rapid advances in the field of biotechnology, monoclonal antibodies offer what many medical authorities view as some of the most promising—if persistently elusive—pathways for the treatment of cancer and other deadly diseases.

Put most simply, monoclonal antibodies (or MAb in medical shorthand) are antibodies that are identical, each derived from one type of immune cell and each a clone of a single parent cell. For science, that means that the extraordinarily specific nature of antibodies becomes a tool with wide and potentially revolutionary applications. In essence, they can be deployed to find a single targeted substance, such as an antigen found only on a cancer cell, and make it possible to pinpoint the cell and destroy it. In addition to cancer therapies, Mab also is used in diagnostic tests for everything from pregnancy, to AIDS, to drug screening. Further, the antibodies can be used to lessen the problem of organ rejection in transplant patients and to treat viral diseases that are traditionally considered “untreatable.”

Monoclonal antibody technology allow us to produce large amounts of pure antibodies obtaining cells that produce antibodies naturally, in effect having a factory to produce antibodies that worked around the clock. Two biotechnology techniques have been important in creating and producing MAbs: cell fusion and cell culture. Early therapeutic MAbs were made from mice, but human bodies rejected them. Modern genetic engineering allows developers to "humanize" the antibodies. Often they are called "chimeric" - chimeras were mythological creatures that mixed parts of two or more real animals together.

Current status of MAbs