Llamas and camels may seem like unexpected partners for improving human health. But their unusual antibodies have properties that lead to the production of tiny, engineered proteins — appropriately known as nanobodies — that have the potential to treat a variety of diseases, from cancer to COVID-19.
About thirty years ago, scientists first discovered that there was something unique about camel antibodies compared to their human counterparts. That difference was so dramatic that the researchers initially assumed that the students who analyzed the camel blood sample had made a mistake.
Human antibodies are made up of four proteins: two heavy chains arranged in a Y-shape and two light chains, one intertwined with each of the prongs. The tips of those prongs attach to foreign bacteria and viruses, known as antigens, and kick off immune cell responses.
Their small size also allows nanobodies to penetrate deeper into tumors, which is helpful for both imaging and treatment. Nanobodies targeting cancer cells could direct drugs to tumors, says Khalid Shah, a biomedical engineer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction