response to a foreign protein (an antigen). A certain type of lymphocyte produces a certain type of antibody. Since there can be many versions of lymphocytes, a huge variety of antibodies can be generated.
Lymphocytes do not stay alive indefinitely when grown outside the body, making it difficult to produce a lot of antibody for drugs. The discovery of monoclonal antibodies has made it possible to produce specific antibodies in large amounts.
Monoclonal antibodies were developed in 1974 by Cesar Milstein (1927-2002) and Georges Kohler (1946-1995). The scientists discovered that antibody-producing cells called lymphocytes could be combined with cells obtained from tumors. Tumor cells are characterized by their ability to grow indefinitely. The resulting fusion between the lymphocytes and tumor cells produced cells that continuously made a particular type of antibody. By using different lymphocytes, Milstein and Kohler generated many types of antibody-producing cells that lived almost indefinitely. For this discovery the scientists shared part of the 1984 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Monoclonal antibodies to cytokine and various receptors important in arthritis have been developed and tested. Because the basis of the strategy is the recombination of two types of cells (the lymphocytes and the tumor cells), it is referred to as recombination therapy. The results have been encouraging. Assessment of the drugs in animals that develop conditions similar to human arthritis, and in clinical trials that actually test the drug in humans have indicated that the drugs are beneficial and, at least so far, acceptably safe. (There is always a risk from drug therapy, but if the risk is very small and the side effects are not too dangerous, then the use of the drug can be permitted.)
Antibody: A molecule created by the immune system in response to the presence of an antigen (a foreign substance or particle). It marks foreign microorganisms in the body for destruction by other immune cells.
Antigen: A molecule, usually a protein, that the body identifies as foreign and toward which it directs an immune response.
Arthritis: Inflammation of the joints.
Cytokine: Molecules produced by cells to control reactions between other cells.
Immune system: A system in the human body that fights off foreign substances, cells, and tissues in an effort to protect a person from disease.
Lymphocyte: A cell that functions as part of the lymphatic and immune systems by attacking specific invading substances.
Monoclonal antibody: Antibodies produced from a single cell line that are used in medical testing and, increasingly, in the treatment of some cancers.
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