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The Art and Science of Antibody Development

by Raul Buman

Antibody development is a new trend in the field of medical science. This biotechnology provides many types of customized antibodies for use in various applications. Yes, this sounds like science fiction, but today’s technological advances allow medical researchers to custom-design antibodies that we can use to fight disease, track disease behavior, monitor disease states, screen for proteins and biochemicals and assist in drug therapies. What used to be science fiction is now fact. There is a huge world of new opportunities in the war on disease and aging because of this new biotechnology!

The new, therapeutic use of antibodies gives us tremendous promise in the fight against cancer and other diseases. For instance, on the surface of many types of cancer cells, there is an increased level of receptor proteins. These proteins make cancer cells more receptive to growth signals, which helps them to divide and spread; one of the most insidious aspects of cancer. Using customized antibodies greatly broadens our choices in treating disease. By identifying if someone has the presence of these particular proteins, we can provide more targeted and specific cancer treatments. Using these antibodies to block the receptor activity helps to prevent the growth and spread of cancer cells, and therefore, tumors. In this application, we’re using anti-receptor antibodies. This takes customized disease treatment to the next level.

glass antibodyCustom antibody development is a state-of-the-art technology that has an exciting future in immunology, cancer biology, cell biology, molecular biology and biochemistry. Developing antibodies incorporates the use of sophisticated robotics in the laboratory to separate proteins and genetic material while creating effective antibody and small-molecule drugs. It’s a superb blending of both art and science. Antibody development takes skill, knowledge and dedication. Today’s biotechnology developers recognize the need for drug therapies that work on a deeper, cellular level.

These new “antibody drugs” work on the outside of cells, where signaling sequences occur. Antibody development allows medical researchers to interfere with, or interrupt, these sequences, thereby interfering with the disease progression. Cellular communication is imperative for our health, but it’s also needed for the growth and progression of diseases, especially cancer. The exciting and remarkable thing about antibody development is that we can customize antibody drugs to target the exact process to interrupt, which can halt the disease. By using antibodies we can halt or reverse disease without harming surrounding cells and tissue. This is a major sticking point in treating all types of cancer, as well as inflammatory diseases.

Soon the use of antibody drugs will be commonplace and we’ll be able to crush the threat of cancer and degenerative, debilitating diseases, in addition to the various maladies of aging. This is the new world of biopharmaceuticals that gives disease sufferers hope and a future. In fact, it gives us all hope in our quest to be healthy while staving off age.

Guide: Ten Facts About Biorepositories

by Raul Buman

Biorepositories, also known as biobanks, are basically libraries of biological specimens that can be used by biologists and other life scientists for purposes of research, study, and analysis. The College of American Pathologists defines a biorepository as “an entity that receives, stores, processes, and/or disseminates biospecimens, their derivatives, and relevant data, as needed.” Let’s take a look at ten things you might not know about these important facilities.

Image Credit: www.pbmmi.com

1. Biorepository services are often used for the isolation of RNA, DNA, and proteins for genetic research. Much of this research has led to significant advances for in the medical and biological fields.
2. Use of biorepositories has aided the development of personalized molecular medicine. This process links a person’s reaction to medicines to their individual genetics, personalizing treatment in a way not previously possible.
3. The samples collected at a biorepository, known as biogenetic samples, are usually tagged with information about the donor and the conditions in which the specimen was taken. It should be noted, though, that extreme care is taken to protect the privacy of the donor. Personal information is typically removed and replaced with a unique identifying code.
4. Biogenetic samples are categorized in a number of ways. These include classification by ethnicity, age, gender, blood types, as well as whether the donor smoked or suffered exposure to hazardous materials. All of these characteristics can then be cross-referenced to obtain a specific classification for use in scientific studies. For example, a study might want to look at 40-50 year old men of Asian descent, and this cross reference would allow a set of biogenetic samples to be identified.
5. Most samples in biorepositories are obtained through donations gathered during clinical trials and public health surveys. Patients having lab work done in the course of treatment for individual medical conditions, though, donate some samples. In all cases, specific permission is given to use the sample.
6. The International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories sets standard procedures and protocols for handling samples and other actions. This international body, headquartered in Maryland, also promotes ethical standards for the industry.
7. Biorepositories often provide for freezing tissues and cryogenic suspension of human cells. This enables samples to be examined or used at a later date.
8. Biorepositories also often offer services such as creation of immortalized cell lines. These cells can, in turn be used for biotechnology and biochemical research.
9. Human research biobanks, one of the earliest forms of biorepositories, have existed for over 50 years now. In the 1980s, however, small scale and complex research and scientific engagement gave birth to the modern biorepository.
10. Biorepositories are found within the private business world, academia, research institutes and the federal government. The number of institutions is increasing, and they are found in the United States and throughout the world.

The advent of these institutions is important for our society as a whole. Because of the research they facilitate, advances in medical treatment of some of the world’s most horrific diseases are being made, and our understanding of our own genetic makeup is increasing. The role this relatively new and exciting medical industry plays in the future will likely increase as that knowledge advances.

Debris From Japan’s Tsunami Confirmed To Have Made Its Way To California

by Raul Buman

The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan may be over, but the after effects are still being seen to this day. As the natural disaster destroyed property in Japan, it dragged millions of tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean, more than 1.5 million tons of which floated away from shore and is still being found over two years later.

Debris Floating To United States

In recent months, debris from the earthquake and tsunami has begun to find its way to the United States west coast and Hawaii. While some of the debris has come in fragments identifiable only by Japanese writing visible on its surface, in some cases, larger pieces are being found. In a few cases, entire boats have been found washing up on the shores of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, and Canada’s British Columbia. Most recently, a skiff covered in gooseneck barnacles was found in northern California, the first piece of debris from the tsunami to travel that far south.

Aerial view of debris following earthquake in Japan.

Environmental Impact

While gooseneck barnacles are common in the Pacific Ocean and may be found on almost any structure that drifts in the open ocean, other species of plants and animals found on debris from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami are not so benign. Scientists worry about the introduction of invasive species to North America. These species of plants and animals exist in a delicate balance in the Japanese ecosystem, but may lack natural predators or control by environmental factors in North America, where they are not native. If introduced, these species can reproduce uncontrollably, consuming resources, crowding out native plants and animals, and even acting as predators and destroying threatened native species.

Invasive Species

It is unknown whether the skiff that washed ashore in northern California contained any invasive species, but pieces of debris that do contain these threatening plants and animals have already been found along the American west coast. One Japanese ship that washed ashore in Washington contained live striped beakfish. These fish live in coral reefs in warm pacific waters around Japan and occasionally near Hawaii, but

Striped beakfish Image Credit – Wikipedia.org

should not be found in the colder waters of the Pacific Northwest, and may eat native species of fish. This black and white striped fish demonstrates the risks carried on floating debris; the fish survived a journey over two years long in a sealed compartment. Their trip is truly remarkable; yet it is disturbing to think about what other invasive species might also be able to survive such a journey.

Of the 28 pieces of debris that have washed ashore in North America and have been confirmed to be products of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, it is unknown how many have contained invasive species. It is known, however, that a single boat contained between 30 and 50 species of plants and animals that are native to Japan but may become invasive if introduced to North America. Sections of concrete docks containing potentially invasive invertebrates have been found as well. Scientists at institutions like California’s Humbolt State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are working together to track debris, confirm its origins in Japan, determine whether the debris contains invasive species, and institute control measures as needed.

Natural disasters bring people together in the most unexpected of ways. Finding the remnants of destroyed Japanese property on the coasts of North America more than two years following the tsunami is a perfect example, and scientists are working to ensure that no unexpected hitch hikers came along for the ride.

Honey Is Discovered To Boost Bees’ Immune Systems

by Raul Buman

Bees may use honey as a source of energy to help them survive over long, cold winters, but that’s not all honey can do. Recent research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that honey has broader benefits for bees, including helping to protect them from infections and pesticides.

The honeybee population in North America has been in rapid decline in recent years, leading scientists to question the future of this beneficial species. The culprit appears to be colony collapse disorder, a widespread cause of death of entire hives of bees. It is not currently known what causes colony collapse disorder, but scientists believe that one or a combination of a variety of factors, including widespread pesticide use, parasites, and climate change, may be to blame. Bees die off suddenly and in large numbers, decimating the population of honeybees within a given area.


To help bees survive, especially during the winter months when pollen and other bee foods are not very available, bee keepers often provide bees with “bee candy.” It is well known that honey is the best and oldest bee candy, but because of cost, many bee keepers use other sweeteners instead. Corn syrup, sucrose, and powdered sugar may be provided to give bees enough energy to survive until pollen is available again. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, however, hypothesized that there may be more to bee feeding than just energy. They investigated the idea that honey may contain natural chemicals that help protect bees against the parasites and pesticides that are implicated in colony collapse disorder.

To investigate the beneficial effects of honey, bee researchers provided two groups of bees with slightly different versions of bee candy. One group of bees received commercial bee candy made of sucrose and powdered sugar. The other group received bee candy made with the same ingredients, but with some of the potentially beneficial components of honey added. They then studied the midgut, or small intestine, of the bees to see which genes were activated. The bees that received honey had higher levels of activation of genes in their midguts that are known to help break down harmful pesticides and protect the bees against parasites. In effect, the natural honey chemicals gave the bees an immune boost right at the level of their intestines, where they tend to be exposed to harmful parasites and pesticides.

While cost will still most likely prevent most beekeepers from feeding their bees honey alone, this study suggests that components of honey could help protect bees and prevent colony collapse disorder. In particular, one compound, p-coumaric acid, seems to be especially beneficial and to provide a key immune boost. The results of this study may lead beekeepers to include some honey in their bee candy. It may also encourage manufacturers of beekeeping supplies to produce bee candy that contains some of the protective components of honey in a corn syrup or powdered sugar base. For example, bee candy fortified with p-coumaric acid may be beneficial to bee colonies. More research is needed to determine exactly which compounds are helpful and why, but it may be that the best hope for the disappearing honeybee comes from the honey they produce in their very own hives.

The Red Rose of Saturn – Saturn’s Hurricane

by Raul Buman

Saturn certainly is one of the most visually stunning planets in our Solar System. However, on closer look, the ringed beauty is also beginning to look like one of our weirdest.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft scientists recently released photos of a massive hurricane-like structure at Saturn’s North Pole. Cassini just got a glimpse of the feature in 2004 when Saturn’s North Pole was tipped away from the Sun. It wasn’t until spring of 2009 that scientists were able to re-program the spacecraft so it would fly directly over the feature to reveal this strange and mesmerizing super storm.

The Red Rose of Saturn, a name coined from NASA’s colorized photos of the structure, is very similar to hurricanes on Earth with a few striking differences – size, wind speed and a fueling mechanism.

More Powerful Than Earth Based Hurricanes

The eye of Saturn’s hurricane is about 20 times bigger than an average hurricane eye here on Earth — about 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide. To put in terrestrial terms, that’s about half the width of Australia or about the distance from North Carolina’s Outer Banks to central Kansas. That’s one huge eye and the rest of the storm extends out beyond it for another 600 to 700 miles. Even the clouds at the center of the eye are huge. NASA says they are about the size of Texas.

Winds whip around the eye of the super storm at about 330 mph (530 km/h). To put that in perspective, that’s four times hurricane force winds or twice the speed of a Category 5 hurricane here on Earth. Category 5 hurricanes must have sustained winds of over 155 mph. But like an earthly hurricane, the winds spin clockwise.

Another important difference between Earth based hurricanes and Saturn’s maelstrom is that it’s stationary. It appears to be locked in or around Saturn’s North Pole whereas Earth based hurricanes drift due to the Earth’s rotation and atmospheric disturbances.

What Feeds This Monster?

Hurricane’s here on Earth are fueled by warm ocean water but there are no oceans on Saturn, which is basically a huge hydrogen gas ball. There are small amounts of water vapor in Saturn’s atmosphere but scientists are at a loss as to what is feeding the storm and look forward to studying this part of the puzzle.

A Hurricane Wrapped In A Six-sided Vortex?

If it weren’t astounding enough to discover a hurricane like storm of this magnitude on the ringed planet, Cassini sent back photos of a hexagon shaped structure surrounding the hurricane. Scientists believe the walls of this hexagon are similar to high-speed atmospheric jet streams here on Earth. However, no one has ventured an explanation for its mysterious six-sided shape.

What’s Going On At the South Pole?

Another gigantic storm spins around the South Pole. Although the hurricane-like storm at Saturn’s South Pole is not as famous as its northerly counterpart, it’s almost two-thirds the size of Earth. The eye is much more defined, looking like a giant freakish eye. The clouds rise to a height of 18 to 46 miles (30 to 75 kilometers) above the eye.

On July 30, 1610, Galileo wrote to his patron about his discovery of Saturn, “I discovered another very strange wonder . . .” What would Galileo think of his discovery now.

Scientists Discover That Certain Fish Use Sign Language When Hunting

by Raul Buman

Scientists have known for decades that primates such as gorillas and chimpanzees can learn and understand sign language and communicate with one another using gestures. More recently, ravens have been observed to show similar behaviors, but until now, scientists believed that those two types of animals were unique in their ability to do so. However, an article published recently in Nature Communications suggests that our understanding of animals’ ability to communicate through gestures is less complete than we may have believed. Certain fish are showing the ability to communicate with one another using body language in order to hunt more successfully in teams.

bass fishThe body language these fish use is called referential gesturing. Because scientists don’t know what the fish are thinking, it’s hard to prove that a given behavior is a referential gesture, but there are several criteria that scientists use to classify these behaviors as a form of communication. First, the behavior must be directed at an object (for example, the prey) and aimed at a recipient (another fish). The gesture must have no mechanical purpose (for example, swimming) and must appear to be voluntary and intentional. Finally, it must elicit a response from the recipient. The behaviors seen in two kinds of fish, the grouper and the coral trout, while hunting, fit all of these criteria and appear to be a form of sign language.

Grouper and coral trout are known to cooperate with other species of fish, such as octopi, moray eels, and wrasses, to hunt more effectively. Grouper and coral trout are fast swimmers in open water, while the other fish have the ability to navigate small spaces in coral to capture prey. Scientists have observed both grouper and coral trout to point out escaped prey in hiding spaces that they cannot reach. The grouper and coral trout will perform a “headstand” pose, tilting and pointing at the hidden prey. In many instances, the octopus, eel, or wrasse will respond by seeking out the prey in its hiding place and frequently capturing it. By communicating and hunting in teams, the fish are able to greatly increase the number of successful hunts, and all of the predators get a meal more often.

For many years, scientists believed that language and communication required a large amount of intelligence and brain capacity. However, it is clear that fish do not display the same level of intelligence as mammals or birds, and that they actually lack parts of the brain that mammals and birds use. This research may open doors for future study in language development. It appears that intelligence and brain size may be less important than evolutionary pressure for the development of communication behaviors. For the fish, the need to hunt in environments like the insides of reefs that are unsuited to the speedy grouper and coral trout resulted in pressure to develop a partnership with a more agile ally, and all partnerships work better when the partners are able to communicate with one another. Not only may the fish be more intelligent than we have ever given them credit for, but necessity may truly be the mother of invention even in the depths of the ocean.

How Antibody Tests Assist in Diagnosing Celiac Disease

by Raul Buman

Many children and adults suffer from celiac disease, a genetic immune disorder characterized by the body’s abnormal response to gluten. The gravity of this disease becomes apparent when one considers the great number of foods and manufactured products that contain gluten. While wheat, rye and barley are the most obvious and well known, many people fail to realize that the substance also occurs in many vitamins and medicines.

In response to the presence of gluten, celiac disease produces an inflammatory response that ravages the villi lining the small intestine. The villi play an essential role in the digestive process, and their damage impairs the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

Celiac disease also encourages the production of antibodies, a fact that led to the development of blood tests to detect their presence. Physicians now credit antibody testing with enabling them to detect a substantially larger number of celiac cases in children.


Prior to the advent of antibody testing, when custom antibody production wasn’t available to scientists as it is today, physicians suspected celiac disease mainly when babies and young children presented with the typical manifestations of intractable diarrhea and weight loss. Testing has since shown that celiac disease can announce its presence through a much wider range of symptoms. These include acid reflux vomiting, abdominal pain and constipation, all of which are indicators of atypical celiac disease.

The detection of these antibodies is not, by itself, diagnostic. Only an internal biopsy of the small intestine can make that determination. The discovery of damage to the villi in this area will confirm the diagnosis.

A study referenced in the journal Pediatrics found that following the 1997 introduction of antibody testing, physicians diagnosed celiac disease at a rate three times greater than had previously been the case. Moreover, most of the children so diagnosed had never presented with the classic symptoms.

The study concerned 266 children referred for internal biopsy to Alberta Children’s Hospital in Canada. It compared the number of diagnoses made between 1990 and 1996, before antibody testing, with those made later.

In the earlier group, only 36 children, most of whom were about 2 years of age, received a diagnosis of celiac disease. Over two-thirds of them had shown classic symptoms of the disorder.

Between 2000 and 2006, however, 199 children, some as old as 9 years, were diagnosed with the disease. Only 19 percent of them had presented with classic symptoms. Thirty-eight percent had complained of such atypical indicators as abdominal pain and constipation, and 15 percent showed only poor growth and iron deficiency.

Perhaps most telling, however, was the fact that 28 percent of the diagnosed children had received the original antibody testing only because of familial risk factors. They had complained of no symptoms whatsoever.

Many physicians now recommend antibody testing for all children who suffer from chronic digestive problems. Although there is no cure for celiac disease, adherence to a gluten-free diet will enable sufferers who are aware of the problem to manage the disease.

Batman Might Be In Trouble With His Bat Buddies, Bats Carry More Viruses Than Rats

by Raul Buman

“Quick! To the Batmobile, Robin! There’s bat viruses afoot!”

batmanwatchoutIt sounds like Batman must have read the new study from Colorado State University, situated in Fort Collins, Colorado, indicating bats carry a larger number of transferable mammal-to-human viruses than do other rodent species. This finding is both intriguing and troubling, raising new questions concerning what this may mean for humans in areas with large human and bat populations.

In 2003, the SARS virus erupted on a global scale, bringing attention to viruses capable of jumping from one species to another. The SARS virus, in particular, was linked back to bat contagion.

Angela Luis is one of the scientists in Colorado who compared virus studies on the 1000-plus species of bats with virus studies on the 2000-plus species of rodents. Their study concluded that any single species of bats carries an average of 1.79 viruses known to also be capable of infecting humans. Rodents, meanwhile, carry an average of 1.48 viruses which are known to infect humans.

Bats live in large groups called colonies. Colonies of bats often number in the hundreds of thousands, and sometimes well into the millions. Batman and Robin would probably not enjoy living like their bat cousins live, grouped together in large caverns and caves, and often sharing their abodes with bats of other species unlike themselves.

Scientists noticed that bats sharing a region with other bat species carried a higher number of viruses than those who didn’t. They theorize sharing and intermingling in roosts may be part of the reason for the higher virus rate. Other rodents don’t group themselves together with other species not their own.
To Worry or Not To Worry, That Is The Question

EcoHealth Alliance is a non-profit in New York City working in the Environmental Health sector. Kevin Olival, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at Ecohealth, cautions, “Many people would say the jury is still out on whether or not they are the most important group of mammals.” He reminds us there are many other groups of animals to consider.


Jonathan Epstein is an veterinary epidemiologist with EcoHealth Alliance points out we still have a lot to learn about bat’s immune systems and about their physiology. He is interested in whether bats are more capable of carrying these species-transferrable viruses than rodents.
Batman Might Be Getting A Dirty Rap

Bats, overall, are good for the environments in which they live. They keep insect pest populations in check and save farmers a considerable sum on pesticides and insecticides, not to mention the environmental toll of such toxins. Bats help, along with bees and birds, to pollinate our plants and trees. Perhaps the real problem is human encroachment on bat’s territories, creating a unique opportunity for species-jumping viruses to thrive.

How Antibodies Interact with Neck and Head Cancers

by Raul Buman

Each year, approximately 634,000 people are affected by squamous cell carcinoma of the neck and head. The flat, skin-like squamous cells are those that cover the inside of the nose, throat and mouth. Nearly one half of those who have advanced disease are likely to relapse with either local or distant metastases. Scientists are searching for a treatment for those whose protocols have not stopped the growth of their cancer. One such treatment under consideration makes use of a human monoclonal antibody known as zalutumumab.

Currently, patients are treated with radical surgery or radiotherapy. If this treatment is unsuccessful, or if the patient’s disease is not amenable to this type of treatment, platinum-based chemotherapy is used. However, there is no treatment available for those whose cancer continues to progress after the use of a platinum-based drug. Scientists studying zalutumumab are hoping that it may be able to increase the survival time of these patients.

Zalutumumab is a human monoclonal antibody. A human monoclonal antibody is a copy of a human antibody that is mass produced and designed to target a particular protein on a cancer cell. Zalutumumab is made to target the epidermal growth factor receptor on the cancer cell, blocking the receptor so the cell does not get the signal to replicate. In addition, when the zalutumumab is attached to the cancer cells, it is more easily recognized by the immune system. The antibody is a trigger for the immune system to attack and kill the cancer cells.

The European phase 3 trials were designed to compare zalutumumab and best supportive care, which may include chemotherapy or steroids, with best supportive care alone. The dose of zalutumumab used depended on the appearance or absence of a rash in the patient. The patients were randomly assigned to one of the two groups.

The results of the study, reported in 2010, showed that the median survival rate for those in the zalutumumab group was 6.7 months, while the rate in the control group was 5.2 months. Those who were in the zalutumumab group were found to have a longer progression-free survival than those in the control group. This monoclonal antibody helped to control the cancer in one-half of those treated with it as compared to one-quarter of those treated with best supportive care alone.

The researchers found that in this study, though the use of zalutumumab did not increase the overall survival rate, the progression-free survival time did increase in those patients who had no success with platinum-based chemotherapy. In addition, they found that dose titration based on the occurrence of a rash was safe in the case of zalutumumab. Researchers concluded that a human monoclonal antibody, zaluntumumab, was able to delay the progression of tumor growth in those with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck who had previously failed platinum-based treatment.