Proteins called human monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that fight off influenza infection can now be rapidly made in the lab, a new report has indicated.
The report says that using cells drawn from volunteers inoculated with seasonal influenza vaccine, scientists supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were able to produce influenza-specific mAbs in just a few weeks rather than the typical two to three months.
The researchers believe that the new technique may potentially be used to rapidly create mAbs for a range of uses.
"With this new technique for making human monoclonal antibodies efficiently and quickly, Drs. Wilson and Ahmed and their colleagues have made a significant advance," Nature magazine quoted NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci as saying.
"Their accomplishment opens the way to producing mAbs that potentially could be used diagnostically or therapeutically not only for influenza but for other infectious diseases as well," he added.
The researchers involved in the study also discovered that besides being relatively quick to make, the influenza mAbs also bound tightly to virus strains in the seasonal influenza vaccine.
According to them, such high affinity for the vaccine's viruses indicates that the mAbs would also bind well to the circulating viruses that are targeted by the vaccine, and thus could be used either as a therapy or as a way to diagnose the strain of influenza virus an individual is infected with.
Though the researchers did not test the mAbs they made on virus strains with pandemic potential like the H5N1 subtype that causes avian flu, they believe that the ability to make high-affinity influenza mAbs quickly raises the possibility of deploying them in combination with other disease control strategies in the event of a global influenza pandemic.
The research team is now planning to use their technique to generate mAbs against H5N1.
"With just a few tablespoons of blood, we can now rapidly generate human monoclonal antibodies that potentially could be used for diagnosis and treatment of newly emerging strains of influenza," said Dr. Patrick Wilson, a researcher collaborator from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
"In the face of a disease outbreak, the ability to produce infection-fighting human mAbs swiftly would be invaluable," he added.
Dr. J. Donald Capra, who is Dr. Wilson's colleague at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, said: "This research holds clinical potential for a host of infectious diseases including anthrax, respiratory syncytial virus and pneumococcal pneumonia."