An Israeli researcher finds that antibodies called nanobodies produced by camels may prove to be a powerful cancer fighting weapon.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
An Israeli researcher has discovered that special antibodies produced by camels and sharks may prove to be a powerful cancer-fighting weapon, Channel 12 reported Wednesday.
Very few sharks frequent Israel’s shores, but its deserts are indeed known for its camels. Prof. Niv Papo from the National Biotechnology Institute at Ben Gurion University of the Negev got the idea last year because he sees camels every day on the way to work in his laboratory in Beer Sheba.
Chemotherapy is effective in fighting cancers like prostate cancer, but at the same time it also destroys healthy cells and irreversibly damages tissues in the body. Injected into the bloodstream, the chemotherapy treatment kills cancer cells, but also causes high toxicity and over time creates resistance to treatment.
The only antibodies that can handle the task of penetrating cancer cells are tiny antibodies called nanobodies. Their size is only about 10% the size of regular antibodies, and they are able to penetrate hard cancerous tissue, release the chemotherapeutic drug and finally clear it from the body quickly.
It turns out that the only animals known to produce tiny nanobodies of this type are camels and sharks, and given the large local inventory of camels in the Negev Desert near Prof. Papo’s workplace, the choice of camels was obvious.
Prof. Papo’s research focuses on the injection of chemotherapy into the body while ensuring that it works effectively only against cancer cells and not against healthy cells and healthy tissues.
A recent study he conducted with doctoral student Lior Rosenfeld showed that by using camels, they could create tiny antibodies against prostate cancer that bind strongly only to cancer cells, directly inject them with chemotherapy drugs and eliminate those cells selectively and in a controlled manner.
Prof. Papo purchased a camel and housed it at a farm near the university, which allowed the camel to produce the tiny antibodies, much like a vaccinated or attenuated virus injected into human bodies to make antibodies, but without infecting with the virus itself.
The antibodies were collected from the camel that were suitable for the elimination of cells infected with prostate cancer. Further tests of the antibodies identified the most effective among them in the treatment of the cancer cells.
The study showed that the antibodies produced by the camel penetrated the cancer cells and released the chemotherapy drugs in a controlled manner, leading to the selective elimination of the cancer cells – without any damage to healthy cells. The findings were published recently in the prestigious Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.
The discovery may lead to a new type of targeted chemotherapy for cancer cells that will have a minimum of damage to the healthy tissues, which will hopefully also mean a reduction in the harsh side effects chemotherapy is known for.
The study focused on prostate cancer, but Prof. Papo is also heading another study that focuses on breast cancer. The Biotechnology Institute is in the advanced stages of signing a commercial agreement with a U.S. pharmaceutical company to develop drugs using the technique.