Monoclonal antibodies binding to antigens

Using antibodies

Exploring antibodies as medicine and in research

Antibodies are made by white blood cells called B lymphocytes. Each cell produces just one kind of antibody. If you can induce the cells to grow, they can give you pure antibodies. Researchers first did this 35 years ago by hybridising (joining together) mouse lymphocytes with cancer cells that grow indefinitely. The hybrid cells yield monoclonal antibodies (MAbs), which can be produced with endlessly different shapes.

Antibodies tagged with fluorescent dye enable scientists to locate target molecules under the microscope. This can tell you whether cells in a tissue are making a specific protein, for example, and even where in the cell the protein is found.

MAbs are also used in pregnancy test kits to detect hormones and to help diagnose conditions where particular proteins indicate something is amiss, such as after a heart attack.

Other medical uses include MAbs that block cell surface receptors. For example, the drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) blocks a receptor found in some types of breast cancer and inhibits tumour growth.

Lead image:

A representation of monoclonal antibodies binding to antigens on the surface of a cell. The antigens are depicted as gold rings and the binding sites of the monoclonal antibodies are the gold clefts in the Y-shaped antibody structure.

Anna Tanczos/Wellcome Images

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Proteins’ in January 2014.

Cell biology, Biotechnology and engineering
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development