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Wednesday, 29 December, 1999, 04:06 GMT
'Artifical boost' for immune system

body Breakthrough could help body fight disease


A cheap and effective way of producing synthetic antibodies has been developed by scientists.

The development could lead to treatments for immune system disorders that have not previously been feasible because of cost and the difficult manufacturing process required.

The researchers at the Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, say they can now produce synthetic antibody substitutes efficiently and inexpensively.

They set up a selection system to find small protein molecules called peptides, which are fragile and time-consuming to make, that could mimic antibodies.

Immune response

Antibodies recognise and bind to foreign substances - or antigens - in the body, setting up an immune response to fight the illnesses. They can also be cloned for use as probes to diagnose illness or study antigens in the laboratory.

Dr Thomas Kodadek, professor of internal medicine and biochemistry, said: "Antibodies are large and must be produced using animals, so they are difficult and expensive to make. They are also fragile, which limits their application outside of carefully controlled laboratory environments.

"But this research gives us the potential to make sensors to detect biowarfare agents and a number of other things."

His team genetically engineered bacteria so cells containing the desired peptide would survive an otherwise lethal viral infection, reported the journal Nature Biotechnology. Using this method they were able to quickly find the relevant peptides.

Though the results of the study already have potential benefits for detecting and purifying certain proteins, the peptides do not bind as tightly as antibodies, so further research is required, said Dr Kodadek.

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See also:
15 Sep 99 |  Health
Bizarre antibodies offer allergy clues
29 Jan 99 |  Health
Gene screens pass blood test
08 Feb 99 |  Health
Immune system 'causes heart failure'

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