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Instant Immunity

March 23, 2009

A new technique creates all-purpose antibodies that can be activated at a moment’s notice.


Immunity on demand. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Vaccines can take weeks or months to generate the antibodies that eventually protect you. But Scripps Research Institute biologist Carlos Barbas and his colleagues have proposed a shortcut. First, give a conventional vaccine – one that gives you an ongoing supply of generic antibodies. Then, whenever you’re exposed to a new threat, add designer molecules that instantly stick to those antibodies and direct them toward chosen targets.

CARLOS BARBAS (Scripps Research Institute):
So you’d be producing new antibodies that were waiting to be programmed, at the same time your programmed antibodies were going after their target.

Barbas’ team has proved the concept in mice, making them immediately resistant to cancer. He imagines that humans might someday take customized pills that deliver instant immunity, to anything from the flu to a bioterror attack. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.