To create new vaccines to combat infections, certain cancers and other illnesses that attack the immune system, scientists need to have a good understanding of the mechanisms behind antibodies. Now, researchers have looked to studying the immune systems of cows to find out more about these immune system proteins.
The research team, from the Scripps Research Institute in California, says the immune systems of cows can help them to better understand the diversity of antibodies, which can lead to the development of improved treatment for illnesses in both humans and livestock.
Their research was presented at the 58th Annual Biophysical Society Meeting in San Francisco, CA, this month.
Dr. Damien Ekiert, of the University of California, San Francisco, took part in the study while at the Scripps Research Institute.
He says the research team found that cows possess antibodies that are very different to those scientists have previously discovered, and the way in which the antibodies diversify was "surprising."
An antibody is a protein produced by the body's immune system upon the detection of foreign substances known as antigens.
Pictured is the cow antibody BLV1H12, showing the "ball and chain" structure in red. The antibody could shed light on the mechanisms behind the immune system proteins.
Image credit: D.Ekiert/UCSF
Dr. Ekiert explains that the diversity of antibodies in the body is very important. Our body needs a wide range of antibodies to recognize a variety of pathogens in order to trigger the immune system.
"The more different kinds of antibodies we have in our bodies, the more different kinds of targets we can block," Dr. Ekiert adds.
Useful for antibody-based therapies
According to the investigators, past research has detailed the discovery of cow antibodies that possess "long loops." However, how these antibodies were being created and what they looked like remained a mystery.
Using X-ray crystallography, Dr. Ekiert and colleagues discovered that cow antibodies - called BLV1H12 - have a "ball and chain" structure.
Deep sequencing of these antibodies allowed the investigators to better understand the function of these antibodies and how they are created.
The researchers say they are now looking to find out how these bovine antibodies detect specific antigens and how they bind to them - discoveries that could lead to better treatments and diagnostics for various human illnesses.
Commenting on the findings, Dr. Ekiert says:
"First, studying the immune systems of cows and other animals helps us to understand how our own immune systems function.
Second, the unique structure of these cow antibodies may be particularly well-suited for recognizing certain kinds of antigens and may be useful for antibody-based therapies or diagnostics."
Furthermore, Dr. Ekiert says that understanding the mechanisms behind cow antibodies could lead to the creation of new vaccines for cattle that would protect them from common bovine diseases.
"Once we understand these mechanisms, it is possible that bovine antibodies might be able to recognize some antigens that more conventional antibodies cannot, and would help to bind, inhibit and activate targets that have thus far been intractable for antibody-based therapies," he adds.
Medical News Today recently reported on a study detailing a new vaccine that could help boost immune system response.