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Shark antibodies could soon 'save lives'

Australian scientists claim to have created the world's first library of shark antibodies that can be modified to target diseases like malaria and lead to new treatments.

health and fitness Updated: Jun 23, 2008 14:53 IST

Scientists in Australia claim to have created the world's first library of shark antibodies that have been modified to target diseases, like malaria, and could lead to new treatments.

According to them, the process involves taking genes from sharks and modifying them in a laboratory just by adding proteins that cause random mutations -- essentially mimicking the way the human immune system works -- to develop antibodies capable of a repertoire of defensive responses.

The technology, developed by a team at the University of La Trobe University in Melbourne, also offers prospects for new and better therapies against human diseases like malaria, cancers and rheumatoid arthritis.

"We take the genes from normal sharks and put them into a genetic vector then put in random bits of protein, similar to what the human immune system does. This library is in a single test tube in the freezer.

"We can select antibodies in the laboratory and by maturing and optimising these you will get something that binds very tightly.

"The aim is to use these shark antibodies as a way of finding high-affinity binding agents to bind to anything we want -- such as a molecule on cancer cells, or inflammatory proteins that you could then use in therapy," lead scientist Mick Foley said.

According to him, shark antibodies are very effective in killing malarial parasites in vitro, via a unique protein binding process that blocks molecular function -- the antibody disrupts the normal signalling chain of command and inhibits malaria protein from invading human red blood cells.

"We select a shark antibody on our desired target. It is all done in the laboratory. It is quicker, more efficient, and a bit safer," Foley said.