The human immune system is incredibly complex and contains a large variety of different methods for fighting off disease-causing agents like bacteria and viruses. When dealing with cancerous cells, or any kind of damaged or unusual cells for that matter, it uses something called antibodies in order to eliminate them. These antibodies latch on to a specific type of molecule laying on the surface these cells called an antigen. Once the antibody has become attached to the antigen, it acts as a red flag of sorts, drawing in the immune system to the abnormal cell so that it will be destroyed. Cancer cells are often difficult for these naturally produced antibodies to find, and so avoid the attention of the immune system.
Because the natural antibodies are not sufficient when dealing with cancerous cells, scientists have developed something called monoclonal antibodies in order to help treat cancer. These monoclonal antibodies are artificially engineered molecules that take the place of normal antibodies, and are specifically designed to bind onto antigens that are found much more often on cancer cells than healthy ones. These antibodies all work to deal with cancer cells in a variety of different ways. One type of antibody is designed to block the connection between a cancer cell and the proteins that cause cell growth. Another type of antibody prevents your body from producing new blood vessels, eliminating the blood supply to the tumors. Some of these antibodies are even designed to directly attack cancer cells, causing them to break down and self-destruct.
All of these different monoclonal antibody drugs all work in the same way however, by binding on to one specific type of antigen that they were designed to target. There is one huge problem with using these monoclonal antibody drugs to treat cancer. The problem is that cancer cells can and often do start to become resistant to these antibody drugs, mutating in ways that cause the antigens they contain to no longer bind to the antibodies in the drugs. As a result of this, growth and proliferation of cancerous cells throughout a patient’s body will eventually become unchecked. Because of this, doctors are often forced to prescribe several different chemotherapy drugs at the same time, in the hopes that they can kill the cancerous cells before they start to mutate and become immune to the antibodies. This is dangerous, unfortunately, as it increases the strain being put on to the patient’s immune system.
In 2010, the scientist Germaine Fuh proved to the world that she may have an answer to this serious problem. In her studies, she found that many of the antibodies produced naturally by mammals have the ability to bind to more than one antigen. For the most part they only bind to the second antigen fairly weakly, but this ability to act as almost two different antigens at once inspired her to design dual-action antibodies as an alternative to monoclonal antibodies. These dual-action antibodies she has invented have the ability to attach themselves onto two antigens at once, acting as two separate treatments for the price of one. This could save drug companies huge amounts of money, and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of cancer patients at the same time.