Scientists in California have announced the creation of molecules that transform mouse antibodies into potent cancer killers.
Carlos Barbas, of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, says that the dumb-bell shaped "adaptor" molecules bind mouse antibodies to proteins on the surface of disease-causing agents, redirecting the antibodies' killing focus.
In a previous study, the researchers attached these molecules to a single kind of antibody in the lab, and injected them into the mouse to kill tumour cells.
In the current study, they have shown that the synthetic molecules can bind many kinds of antibodies to cancer cells inside mice, and reduce the size of implanted human tumours.
Revealing their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers said that the colon tumours had shrunk by up to 90 per cent, and melanomas by 78 per cent, four weeks after they injected the molecules into the lab mice.
Barbas believes that it may be possible to customise the molecules to bind antibodies to HIV, to fight flu and malaria, or to protect against bio-terror agents.
"This is a highly ingenious way to induce an instant 'vaccine effect'," New Scientist magazine quoted Peter Palese, who studies RNA viruses at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, as saying.
However, given that the adaptors only stay attached for three to four days, the researchers say that any such treatment would require booster shots to be effective.