Alpacas are the smaller, distant cousins of Llamas. They belong to the family of the South American camelid. Even though it is not that well known, for a long time now, Alpacas have been playing an integral role in propagating the fight against cancer. Yes, you have read this right; Alpacas are proving to be much more than just furry playmates. Keep reading to find out more!
1. How It All Started
Back in 1989, at the Free University of Brussels, two students were given a project wherein they had to test samples of frozen blood serum extracted from camels. In this project, they discovered a new antibody that was previously unidentified. The antibody has a very similar structure to that of human protein chains and was later discovered to be found in llamas as well as Alpacas. Years later, researchers are now working towards further shrinking these antibodies and forming ‘nanobodies’ that can help combat cancer. They are hoping to achieve this by revolutionizing the Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy that is applied to fight solid tumors.
2. How It Works
Nanobodies are explicitly designed to target various types of cancers. It provides a kind of therapy such that the T-cells are genetically modified to attack cancerous growth. However, it has been observed that T-cells alone are falling short. Here is where the nanobodies are brought in. Extracted from Alpacas, these modified antibodies further enhance the ability of T-cells to locate and visualize cancerous cells.
For this purpose, scientists inject Alpacas with the respective antigen then draw some blood to test for the presence of the antibodies produced to combat that antigen. The newly engineered CAR T-cells are then tested upon the Alpacas, who themselves showed little to no side effects. Also, it was observed that T-cells were readily attacking tumor tissues as well as preventing further growth of cancerous tissues.
3. What Does The Future Hold?
So far, things are looking up for the role of these nanobodies in modifying CAR T-cells as they have successfully combated various forms of blood cancer, melanoma as well as colon cancer. Scientists and researchers are now looking to further expand to the field of pancreatic cancer. For this purpose, efforts are being made to equip the already existing nanobodies with the protein, cytokine, to further enhance the immune response mechanism to tumor cells.
The advent of these antibodies and further modified nanobodies are playing a pivotal role in the field of cancer research and has taken scientists leaps and bounds ahead in their efforts to cure cancer. Scientists are positive that these modifications and this technology can be propagated even further into the field of solid tumors. For this purpose, scientists are working towards devising mechanisms such that the nanobodies can be further engineered to target tumor tissues and cancerous cells at closer range by targeting their radioisotopes. This, in turn, ensures that the surrounding organs and tissues are effect minimally.