Building the Foundation of Tomorrow's Immune System

The human immune system of tomorrow will look, conceptually, a lot like today's software defenses:

Scientists are making real inroads into replicating and controlling the cells and mechanisms of our immune system. Producing immune cells, directing their actions, deciphering the biochemistry of pathogens - all these pieces are waiting to be put together as a bioartificial immune system, many times more selective, efficient and resistant to damage than the basic version we're all equipped with. ... One might imagine the future providers of immune system technology looking a lot like today's providers of anti-virus software for your computers, harvesting information on potential infections and streaming update information to bioartificial antibody manufactories in your bloodstream.

Wireless anti-virus nanotechnology in the blood may seem like a far future vision, but the first building blocks of that technology are already emerging from present day research. For example, it won't be long before clinics can assemble massive doses of artificial antibodies to order and then infuse them into your body. Antibodies are the immune system's weapons, molecules tailored to a specific threat that either directly kill attackers or flag them for ingestion and destruction by white blood cells. An infusion of antibodies produced in the clinic could be vastly larger than what the body is capable of producing on its own, overwhelming an assault. Here is the latest advance towards this near-term goal:

Using plastic nanoparticles just 1/50,000th the width of a human hair, the team has created plastic antibodies that successfully function in the bloodstream of living animals to identify and fight a variety of antigens.

Antibodies are the proteins in our bodies produced by the immune system to recognize and neutralize foreign threats like infections, allergens, viruses and bacteria. These can include things as annoying but benign as plant pollen and dust to food allergens, bee venom, and other toxins. Our body produces antibodies in decent quantities, but in the case of allergies our immune systems can be unequipped to deal with certain antigens, and in other cases - such as a bad infection - our own natural antigens can simply become overwhelmed.


researchers could tailor a variety of these nanoparticles for use in just about any case where the body relies on antibodies for to fight off threats. That’s a lot of cases, opening the door to a synthetic immune booster that could potentially be used to treat myriad allergies, illnesses and infections.

For those interested, you can find the original scientific paper at the Journal of the American Chemical Society. We certainly live in interesting times.

Where does this fit into the near future of aging and engineered longevity? Well, a significant component of age-related frailty and suffering stems from the decline of the immune system. The ability to manufacture antibodies for common threats might be used to sidestep some of that decline, and that's almost as big a deal as finding ways to rejuvenate the age-damaged immune system.

ResearchBlogging.orgHoshino, Y., Koide, H., Urakami, T., Kanazawa, H., Kodama, T., Oku, N., & Shea, K. (2010). Recognition, Neutralization, and Clearance of Target Peptides in the Bloodstream of Living Mice by Molecularly Imprinted Polymer Nanoparticles: A Plastic Antibody Journal of the American Chemical Society, 132 (19), 6644-6645 DOI: 10.1021/ja102148f


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