Monoclonal antibodies

In the last 20 years or so, antibody-based therapeutics have mainly focused upon the medical application of monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibody technology was first developed in the mid 1970s, when Kohler and Milstein successfully fused immortal myeloma cells with antibody-producing B-lymphocytes. A proportion of the resultant hybrids were found to be stable, cancerous, antibody-producing cells. These 'hybridoma' cells represented an inexhaustible source of monospecific (monoclonal) antibody. Hybridoma technology facilitates the relatively straightforward production of monospecific antibodies against virtually any desired antigen.

The production process (Box 13.1) entails initial immunization of a mouse with the antigen of interest. The mouse is subsequently sacrificed and its spleen removed. (The spleen is an organ enriched in B-lymphocytes. Because of the immunization process, a significant proportion of these lymphocytes are likely capable of producing antibodies recognizing specific epitopes on the antigen.)

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