Medical Care

Nanobodies: A Smaller Weapon in Fighting Disease

A new system developed by researchers at Rockefeller University promises to make nanobodies, proteins that flag diseased cells for destruction, more accessible for various kinds of research.

Nanobodies are “cousins” to antibodies and can perform similar tasks such as marking molecules for research or discovering diseased cells. They are much simpler to produce than antibodies, but until this most recent study experts haven’t been able to recognize which nanobodies are most in tune with their “targets.”

Antibodies, defensive proteins used by the immune system to attack invaders, are also used in biology and medicine for visualizing cellular processe and delivering specific molecules to specific places. Nanobodies function in the same way, but have an advantage over antibodies because they are easier to grow in bacterial “factories” and can reach places that may be inaccessible to antibodies.

“Nanobodies have tremendous potential as versatile and accessible alternatives to conventional antibodies, but unfortunately current techniques present a bottleneck to meeting the demand for them,” said study author Michael Rout, head of the Laboratory of Cellular and Structural Biology. “We hope that our system will make high-affinity nanobodies more available, and open up many new possible uses for them.”

The researchers used llamas in their study, because the animal’s antibodies are easily modified to generate nanobodies. The investigation focused on the llamas’ bone marrow cells.
Ultimately, the study generated 25 types of nanobodies capable of precisely targeting foreign proteins known as antigens.

The study was published in the journal Nature Methods.

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