Photo: mararie (flickr)
Have you ever wondered why your immune system doesn’t fight certain diseases, like cancers, the same way it fights colds or infections?
Each cell in your body has tiny markers on its surface called “epitopes,” which your immune system uses to verify that that cell belongs in your body. If your immune system finds epitopes that aren’t recognized (such as those on an infectious bacteria, fungi, or virus) it produces special proteins called antibodies. Antibodies attach themselves to the epitopes on the foreign body, and signal your immune system to destroy it.
However, what if your own cells go bad? For example, in cancers a population of your own cells starts to grow and divide out of control. Since cancer cells are made by your own body, your immune system won’t normally launch an attack.
Scientists have discovered a clever way to fool your immune system into destroying your own bad cells. The process is called Monoclonal Antibody Treatment. Monoclonal antibodies are antibodies created in a lab in mass quantities, designed to attach to one specific epitope.
The antibodies are then transfused into a patient, where they attach to any cell that has the matching surface epitope. The antibodies trigger the patient’s immune system to destroy the attached cells. For example, monoclonal antibodies specific against epitopes on breast tissue cells, can be used to treat breast cancer by inducing the patient’s immune system to attack the cancer-filled breast tissue.
Monoclonal Antibody Treatments are already being used to treat several types of cancer and auto-immune diseases. While there is still much to learn about monoclonal antibodies, they hold great promise for the treatment of formerly difficult-to- treat diseases.